Transformational Fandom

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See also: affirmational fandom, blueprint culture, curative fandom
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Transformational fandom is a phrase coined by obsession_inc in her 2009 essay Affirmational fandom vs. Transformational fandom. She defines transformational fandom as a female-dominated community and fanworks-oriented form of fandom that is "all about laying hands upon the source and twisting it to the fans' own purposes, whether that is to fix a disappointing issue (a distinct lack of sex-having between two characters, of course, is a favorite issue to fix) in the source material, or using the source material to illustrate a point, or just to have a whale of a good time". She further notes that:

while there are majority opinions vs. minority opinions, it's largely a democracy of taste; everyone has their own shot at declaring what the source material means, and at radically re-interpreting it. Due to the internet's democratization of publishing, and the resulting legal threats from the creators, transformational fans are not well-known to the creators, and vice versa; right along with the disagreement over how copyright works, there's a central disagreement there about Who Is In Charge that's very difficult to ignore.

In this schema, the opposite of transformational fandom is affirmational fandom.

Skud elaborated on transformational fandom in a related post on Affirmational vs Transformational fandom, and offered "the following rough guide to some concepts" she uses to define it and to distinguish it from affirmational fandom:

Fan Comments

Why I'm a fan of transformative works

There are two main reasons I'm a fan of remix culture, and transformative fanworks in particular.

Politics

First, it's political. I find many mainstream texts problematically essentialist (that is, they are chock full of sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, etc). Transformative works, as the name implies, can engage with texts in a way which allows me to transform those aspects, and actively speak back about the things I love, and the issues I find offensive and ethically dubious.

I also love the way transformative works re-tell the same stories over and over with variations on the themes: from epic tragedy, to the silliest slapstick, and everything in between. There's something delightful to me about the playfulness of that, especially as I don't believe in many absolute truths about either people or cultures. It also appeals to my curiosity; I like to see all the different consequences of characters' choices (all the possible "what ifs" or "turn lefts" if you like), that are implied by canon texts, but necessarily closed off by them.

Transformative works are also part of a community of practice, which means those transformations are part of a larger conversation about these texts and the issues they portray. For me (although not for everyone), the political possibilities in this community of practice, as well as in the transformative power of the art, is a big part of what draws me to fanworks. I think it's very feminist that so many women take part in this form of art practice, and that they can use it as a forum for talking about issues which are often silenced or stereotyped in the mainstream, like positive sexuality, polyamory, rape, misogyny, sexual harassment, domesticity, etc.

It's because of my interest in the political side of transformative works and their communities of practice (and remix cultures more broadly) that I volunteered to help build the Organization for Transformative works. Fanworks = activism for me.

Love

Second, it's about love. I want to read and watch stories about love, and I don't just mean sexual love. I mean friendship. And family love between siblings, and parents and children. I mean transformative love from friendship to lovers or vice-versa. I mean love that isn't clearly defined in our culture, like frenemies or polyamory or asexuality. It's also about love of texts, about the way you can passionately engage with a novel, show or artwork.

Love is treated with such suspicion in mainstream literature; it's hard to find works which take it seriously without devolving into "isms". I'm deeply unsatisfied by most (but not all) mainstream books and films about love, with their relentless focus on heterosexual romances. They are often ghettoised as "women's literature," and chock full of misogyny and stereotypes. More importantly, there aren't enough friendship romances of the type I prefer in the mainstream, except in young adult fiction, which is often satisfyingly experimental.

Fanworks aren't perfect in this regard, either. There are still plenty of texts chock full of "isms". However, the focus on transformation, and the political possibility inherent in the form, means that I'm satisfied much more often by fanworks than by mainstream works on the same theme. [1]

References

  1. Position Statement: Fanworks and remix ; archive link by cupidsbow (January 28, 2012)