Trash

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This article is about the Internet fannish term "Trash". See Whump for the media fanzine trope.

This article or section needs expansion.

Synonyms: fandom trash, garbage
See also: Hydra Trash Party
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In fannish usage, the word trash is most commonly a self-referential, self-deprecating way to refer to one's own fannish obsessions and interests. While many fans use this term and its variants with a joyous, tongue-in-cheek attitude, for other fans, the word has an inescapably negative connotation - recollecting the long history of denigrating or belittling fans and their objects of fandom as second-rate, lowbrow, or juvenile. As a result, the term's shifting usage - from pejorative to reclaimed to full-blown meme - is often cited as evidence of the generational faultlines in fandom, or indicative of the ways in which communication norms on different platforms can shape fandom. Additionally, some fans have criticized the term as classist.

While this self-referential usage is fairly common, fans still also use "trash" in its negatively connotation, as a way to deride or dismiss something.

See also: The strange story of how internet superfans reclaimed the insult 'trash'.

Origins and Evolution of the Term

To trash something is to ruin it, as one might literally destroy a hotel room or metaphorically tear down another person's reputation. Trash talk refers to a practice of insults, as at a sporting event between opponents, or when someone might speak negatively about another person. In a North American context, "trash" is often used derogatorily, as in "trailer trash." "Trash TV" often describes types of television such as soap operas or reality TV, which have typically been consumed by primarily female audiences. Something that is "trashy" is often coded as low-brow or shameful, as in a trashy romance novel or junk food. Words like "junk" or "garbage" are often deployed synonymously with "trash" In many of these usages, there is a commonly understood value judgment of the "trash," which is often interrelated with the pleasure it provides. And, of course, sometimes "trash" just means trash: the garbage you take out, the junk you accumulate.

In fandom, the meaning of "trash" is highly dependent on context and affect. Fannish usage of "trash" draws on the variety of meanings and connotations generally expressed by the term, and has also accreted distinct layers of meaning within fandom. These meanings are often determined by the speaker's position in relation to the thing that's described as trash: "I'm trash" feels intuitively distinct from "that's trash," which in turn differs from "you're trash." Something that is "trash" might also be "problematic," which may be a sincere judgment of something fraught, or an ironic self-assessment.

The self-deprecating form of "trash" - i.e., "I'm trash for loving this ship" - is commonly associated with Tumblr-based fandom and kink memes, and its usage is considered by some fans to represent a divide within fandom. This may be understood as a function of differing norms on platforms, particularly where Tumblr fandom is seen as distinct from fandom cultures from other platforms or contexts; some fans also characterize this as a generational divide.

"Trash" on fail-fandomanon: an analysis

Comments posted to fail-fandomanon from 2013 to 2019 reflect the term's evolution within fandom.

Usage of "trash" in 2013 on fail-fandomanon largely didn't draw on a specifically fannish meaning: lots of references to taking out the trash, usage of terms like "trailer trash" and "trash-talk." When nonnies used the word "trash" to talk about their fannish interests and experiences, it was largely in reference to content they enjoyed with an awareness of external judgment[1], or to content they felt was substandard or downright bad.[2][3][4]

Some of these earlier usages reflect or echo the tone of fannish usage of "trash," which began picking up steam around this time. In September 2013, a nonnie called BBC Robin Hood "utter trash," while also identifying as part of the show's fandom.[5] One nonnie started a thread about Hemlock Grove in May 2014, writing, "Any fans here? WTF was that? I know it's trash and something produced by Eli Roth has to be sexist but did they really kill like every female character in the show? And the dead lesbians! Jesus!"[6] A nonnie described the Big Bang Theory ship Sheldon/Penny on May 4, 2014, as "delightful trash."[7]

On fail-fandomanon, the first discussion of the fannish usage of "trash" as in "I'm trash" was in a December 27, 2013 thread:[8]

[Nonnie 1]

The 'I'm trash' comments/tags I keep seeing around kink memes/Tumblr are really starting to annoy me. Not even for traditionally taboo things as well, I've seen people say it in posts about really common ships.

I don't know, it just grates.

[Nonnie 2]

What do you mean? They're calling themselves trash for liking a certain kink/ship?

I've seen 'I'm going to hell for writing/requesting this' but nothing as blatantly self-deprecating as 'I'm trash'.

[Nonnie 1]

ayrt

I've seen it all over the place but yeah, especially on Tumblr it's too common for someone to post a kinky or shipping headcanon/pic then in the tags they'll say they're trash for thinking it, 'lol I'm trash', 'don't look at me I'm trash', etc.

[Nonnie 3]

I (for some reason) follow someone who reblogs a lot of 1D stuff who is constantly tagging with the 'lol i'm trash' thing. It does definitely grate.

[Nonnie 4]

Yeah, that one for some reason makes me really uncomfortable when people I've known for years (and I know have actual issues with feeling worthless and stuff) suddenly start saying it :/

[Nonnie 5]

Hmm, yeah, it's like there's a surface of 'haha, isn't this funny, it's such a joke,' with an undercurrent of not actually joking at all. There's sometimes a pretty thin line between humorous self-deprecation and actual self-deprecation, and 'trash' is a bit too aggressive to be entirely the former.

[Nonnie 6]

It bugs me too, mostly because I see it a lot from people who at one point or another made sure everyone knew that [x ship] was stupid/gross/its shippers were insane and should feel bad for shipping it etc and then they either turned around and started shipping it too or they ship something EXACTLY like it in a different fandom, but they want everyone to know they STILL aren't like ~those shippers~ because at least they acknowledge that...they're a bad person for shipping it? Or something?

I'm sure it's not all of them but it's a lot of them, at least in my experience.

[Nonnie 7]

I personally haven't seen anyone do that, but I can understand feeling uncomfortable if someone acts embarrassed or ashamed of liking a kink or ship that you don't think is weird at all. It's like they're saying that not only are they "trash" for liking it, but it's sort of implying the same about other people who like it, especially if they aren't ashamed of it.

In January 2014, two nonnies discussed some Tumblr wank, highlighting fannish usage of "trash" as an insult or moral judgment deployed by some fans:[9]

[Nonnie 1]

It's mostly of the boring kink-shaming and tag policing variety. Never mind that the whole series is basically child soldiers being told to fight to the death, if you dare be anything other than horrified you're trash. If you laugh you're trash. If you find it kinky you're trash. Wah wah wah don't you dare tag your disgusting posts in the character tags, if you don't trigger warn you need to go die, the author should be ashamed of himself, etc.

[Nonnie 2]

I dearly hope none of the people raging right now are the same people who regularly tell everyone who's creeped out by Eren/Levi ship to suck it up because it's just fiction.

Continued discussion of "I'm trash" usage on fail-fandomanon in a February 2014 on "pet peeves and petty annoyance" highlighted some nonnies' frustration with the term:

[Nonnie 1]

'I'm trash this fic is trash'

'don't look I'm trash'

'I'm such trash for liking [kink/trope/ship] lol'

SO ANGRY

[Nonnie 2]

I haaaaaaate that and it seems like it's suddenly everywhere. It's like taking the regular (and still annoying) fannish self-deprecation and turning it up to eleven.

[Nonnie 3]

YES. I know they're joking, and it's my past issues coming into play, but "I'm trash, this is trash" is honestly kind of upsetting for me. I hate it.

Throughout 2014, discussion and usage of fannish "trash" on fail-fandomanon primarily focused on nonnies' frustrations and criticisms.[10] Usages that sparked frustration included the self-deprecating "I'm trash," calling characters variants of "trash," and using "trash" as a dismissal or judgment (as in "problematic"). Some non-critical usage of "trash" did occur, such as one nonnie writing, "I don't even care that Okane ga Nai is total trash, it's brought me so much joy over the years. It's like the best BL trainwreck imaginable."[11]; another example is an October 2014 comment describing American Horror Story as "gorgeous trash."[12] Towards the end of the year, instances of "trash" on fail-fandomanon increasingly reference Hydra Trash Party fic and Captain America fandom.

Fannish Usage

In June 2013, a fail-fandomanon nonnie described a hierarchy of fanworks and their value within fandom, writing:

Honestly, I think podficcers just need to develop the thick skin vidders have had to have for years. Vidding is definitely seen as a "lower" form of fanwork by most writers and artists. Many vidders are in vidding fandom and only vidding fandom, and people outside vidding fandom have no idea who they are. Vids are looked down on, called trash, called not really doing anything to the source, etc. Hell, even AMV fans look down on live action vid fans.

So basically, do what the vidders and vid fans do. Shrug it off and go back to enjoying your podfic with other people who enjoy podfic in podfic-centric spaces.[13]

In a 2019 fail-fandomanon comment, one nonnie discussed "trash" characters in Game of Thrones, using the term in a self-aware, resigned fashion:

He's not really redeemed in the books either. In both canons, he's a very morally gray character. I like both versions, but lol a little at those who think he's on a path of redemption to becoming a great shining hero. Like that one Tumblr post said, the Lannister children are all trash. You just pick the trash you like best and ride or die with them. My choice of trash are both Jaime and Cersei. Tyrion can take a hike, tbh. (Well, book!Tyrion. Show!Tyrion is a much nicer character, but he's also been too bland for my tastes since he fled King's Landing.)[14]

Criticism

In a March 2014 thread on fail-fandomanon, nonnies references the negative connotations associated with calling another person "trash."[15]

Maggie Stiefvater, a pro author of several YA series with devoted fandoms, posted critically about fans' use of the term on April 17, 2015, in an untitled Tumblr post.

Self-Deprecating or Self-Shaming?

As a noun, "trash" can be an affectionate term of self-denigration, as in I am Steve/Bucky trash. A fan might say that they are "trash" for a particular ship, fandom, or trope; they might also refer to themselves as "fandom trash" in a more general sense. For many of those who are critical of the contemporary usage of "trash," the term is seen as indicative of fans' internalized shame about their passions and pursuits.

In a March 2014 comment on fail-fandomanon, a nonnie wrote:

also, i hate the current tumblr trend of referring to yourself as trash, especially when it's because you like anime or are lazy or something. that term in general is just mean spirited, but it's just needlessly self-deprecating in this context. there's nothing wrong with talking about your low self-esteem or insecurities, but something about "ugh i'm such trash" bothers me.[16]
I get the feeling from some parts of fandom that I'm supposed to be adding "but I know it's trash!" whenever I say I like the show, but I don't really feel like it's bad. I really enjoy it every week, I'm not ashamed of liking it, and I'm with you on rolling my eyes at people who follow recaps and then spend the next week complaining about what happened.[17]

Classism

(content about criticism re: classism to come here)

As someone who grew up a stone's throw away from being considered trash, I'd never use the term to describe myself because, Jesus, that's a little too close for comfort. Maybe if you're more uppercrust you can use it ~ironically.[18]

A fail-fandomanon user discussed the relationship between fannish usage of "I'm trash" and terms like "trailer trash" and "white trash," writing:

I don't mind trash so much, since I grew up as trailer trash and jokingly refer to myself as "white trash" still all the time. Seeing other people refer to themselves as trash is amusing to me, regardless of the fact it's probably classist or whatever. Then again, if someone else called me white trash, I'd probably be pissed.[19]

Misogyny

I've also got a huge problem with the use of "trash" and "dumpster" as it relates to sexuality, especially to female sexuality and fantasy. I really don't want to think of women's desires--even if those desires are about seeing an attractive young man raped in increasingly bizarre ways--as putrid, rotting, or revolting. I don't think there's anything disgusting at all about being interested in power dynamics or the kinds of non-con tropes that are coming up there, and between the sense that no one actually likes the kinks they're writing and the type of language they're using, I get such a strong negative impression, almost as if the entire place were shaming women with unusual interests. Which, I'm aware, is probably not what's intended, but then again I loathe this new trend of calling oneself garbage and trash, anyway, especially since I usually see it in a context of "Oh, he's so cute, I want to see him having sex. I'm an absolute trash pissbucket", which, no. You are not. You are a normal person experiencing normal desires, and there's nothing wrong with that. Until you can convince me that trash, garbage, dumpster, pissbucket, etc. are positive things, I'm going to dislike hearing you use them to describe yourself.[20]


Impact on Fannish Culture

Some fans have identified the increased usage of "trash" as a negative force in fannish culture.

I have reached my limit with people calling each other "human trash", telling each other to "go dump yourselves in the nearest garbage can", etc. at the drop of a hat. It's infected my dash and is just so unsettling to see from people who were once polite and kind online.[21]
I think tumblr is a really unhealthy environment, especially for impressionable young teens. I cringe at all the "I'm trash" and "literal human garbage" that everyone is saying about themselves.[22]
Yeah, this. The thing that disturbs me the most about the trend, though--it's one thing when I see adults in fandom calling themselves trash, because I generally get the sense that they're trying to be playfully self-deprecating (though in an annoying way). But I'm seeing a lot of really, really young fannish people adopt it--twelve, thirteen year olds--and god knows at that age I was down on myself and my interests enough without social encouragement to call myself worthless and I'd be surprised if most of them are in a healthier place.[23]

Social Justice Imperative

Some fans associate the trend of deeming problematic content as "trash" with a social justice imperative in contemporary fannish discourse.

[Nonnie 1]
That's how it works nowadays: you need to constantly, actively point out every single moral failing of the character you like, otherwise you're an apologist. And often you need to use the approved terminology too, like "abusive", "evil" and "trash". Any portrayal that doesn't actively wallow in their horribleness can be see as apologism as well. It's getting ridiculous in some corners.
[Nonnie 2]

Yup. Because obviously, if you like a flawed character and don't constantly point out how flawed they are, that must mean you approve of everything they do.

I assume the various rounds of consent/tagging wank ASoIaF fandom went through. Essentially, there are some people who are very much antinoncon, which is their right of course, but they a) were BNFs (some of them anyway) and b) would basically imply that if you liked Thramsay/any noncon ships at all (even with the caveat that you fully knew how horrible they were), you were trash. (I believe all this wank eventually led to the creation of a noncon-free kink meme.) Some of the Thramsay shippers didn't exactly cover themselves in glory either, but as none of them were big BNFs I don't remember their behavior as well.[24]

References

  1. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on March 24, 2019. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  2. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on April 13, 2013. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  3. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on May 8, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  4. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on December 9, 2013. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  5. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on September 9, 2013. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  6. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on May 3, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  7. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on May 4, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  8. fail-fandomanon comments. Posted on December 27, 2013. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  9. fail-fandomanon comments. Posted on January 4, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  10. One extended example of this discussion is an August 2014 thread on the phenomenon.
  11. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on July 10, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  12. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on October 6, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  13. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on June 20, 2013. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  14. Fail-fandom anon comment. Posted on February 12, 2019. Accessed on February 12, 2019.
  15. fail-fandomanon comments. Posted on March 4, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  16. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on March 6, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  17. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on May 17, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  18. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on August 12, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  19. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on March 6, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  20. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on June 18, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  21. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on April 11, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  22. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on May 10, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  23. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on July 3, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
  24. fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on November 26, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.