Why we're terrified of fanfiction

From Fanlore
Jump to navigation Jump to search
News Media Commentary
Title: Why we're terrified of fanfiction
Commentator: Constance Grady
Date(s): June 2, 2016
Venue: online
External Links: Why we're terrified of fanfiction - Vox, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Why we're terrified of fanfiction is a 2016 article by Constance Grady.

Some Topics Discussed


A new "fandom is broken" article and the ensuing avalanche of responses is only the latest iteration of a familiar cycle

Most recently, Birth Movies Death editor Devin Faraci declared that "fandom is broken." He argued that modern fandom exists in a consumerist culture of entitlement, citing primarily the backlash to the all-female Ghostbusters reboot, the backlash to making Captain America a member of Hydra, and the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign as evidence that fans feel that the artists they support owe it to them to kowtow to their whims.

And young fans, he noted disapprovingly, seem to be "uninterested in conflict or personal difficulty in their narratives (look at the popularity of fan fics set in coffee shops or bakeries, which posit the characters of a comic or TV show or movie they love as co-workers having sub-sitcom level interactions.)."

Fandom, of course, responded.

This conversation has been happening for a very, very long time. Someone will write about how fandom in general and fanfiction in particular is weird and probably morally wrong, and someone else will write a response defending fandom, and then the whole thing will repeat itself again in a few months or days or hours.

So why does the cycle keep repeating itself? What is it about fan culture in general, and fanfiction in particular, that is so threatening that people keep feeling the need to write moralizing think pieces on it, and that the deluge of responding think pieces has little to no effect?

What’s inarguable is that curative fandom tends to treat transformative fandom with a kind of bafflement verging on downright hostility — the same reaction, more or less, that most non-fandom groups have toward fandom in general. The hosts of Gilmore Guys, the fan-run podcast that does three-hour analyses of every episode of Gilmore Girls, have said on their show that fanfiction “goes too far.” People who make their living writing about television and comics say they “don’t get shipping” (not my italics) or that shipping is “gross and dumb.”

There’s a kind of hierarchy at work here: Fandom in general is weird and confusing and potentially immoral and maybe dangerous. Transformative fandom in particular — the kind of fandom filled mostly with women — is weirder and more confusing, almost definitely immoral, also gross, and maybe dangerous.

There’s something specific about media fandom, and to devoting large amounts of emotional energy to media in particular, that is particularly threatening. Adult men crying and engaging in acts of physical violence over sports is expected; people crying over a TV show is weird; women writing stories where Kirk and Spock are more than just friends is not only weird but disgusting and dangerous too.

Of course, sports fandom is masculine. It’s overwhelmingly male-dominated, it’s macho, it’s something we as a culture have decided is “manly.” (This designation erases the many very real women who are into sports, but it remains our cultural image of sports fandom.) Media fandom’s image is, if not feminine, at the very least a hell of a lot less masculine than sports fandom — and that makes it weird. And fanfiction is not only “unmasculine” but actively feminine, designed for women rather than men — and that makes it gross and dangerous.

Historically, whenever young women are interested in a form of media, we like to tell them it is bad for them and that they are bad for liking it — unless the media goes mainstream, in which case it becomes no longer feminine and hence okay. Novels are dangerous and cause insanity, until they become classics worthy of being studied in college. Beatlemania is the province of “the dull, the idle, the failures," until the Beatles become a band that everyone loves.

Young women are so attacked for loving the media they love that it is a radical act for a young woman to love something unashamedly. And transformative fandom is the most radical act of all, because it reverses that "lady thing to respectable thing" process. It takes a piece of media that may not have been designed for young women and makes it for young women.

What is scary about transformative fandom is that it's a place where young women love their media without reservation, and where they can make stories for themselves. That’s why as a culture we’ve decided that transformative fandom is weird and gross and morally wrong, and that’s why all the articles in the world explaining that transformative fandom is a totally legitimate way to interact with a text aren’t really making a dent in the never-ending stream of repulsed investigations of fandom. Because fandom is the province of young women and, culturally, we find young women terrifying.

Some Essays and Articles: Related and in Response