Parabasis: The Fandom Issue
May 22, 2012 10:03 PM   Subscribe

Isaac Butler’s excellent blog Parabasis (previously noted in MeFi conversations about Mike Daisey and Spidermusicals) usually centers on issues in the US nonprofit theater. Occasionally, he takes on a different topic in depth with a series of guests. This past week, he hosted the Fandom Issue: I am less interested personally in whether the Rise of the Fan is good or bad for our culture, and much more interested in what it means. This week, we assay the Fan from a number of different angles. Who are these fans? And what does it mean to be one? What happens to love when it becomes a communal activity? And what happens to it when the beloved cannot or will not respond? posted by HeroZero (13 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
*chorus* so, how about those Leafs, eh?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:20 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think your initial link (the one that's meant to go to the blog in general) is borked; it goes to the main page of a business named parabasis.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:04 AM on May 23, 2012

Frak! D'oh! SMASH! You're right, Empress. Mods, if you please, the first link should go to
posted by HeroZero at 4:48 AM on May 23, 2012

Hey, I know Isaac! I told him about this thread, and I'll see if I can get him to make a post.
posted by jonp72 at 5:33 AM on May 23, 2012

Wow, I've not heard of this blog but it's definitely going into my feed. Great post on Community and all things Fandom.
posted by Fizz at 5:48 AM on May 23, 2012

From the Freddie DeBoer:
I am often most confused by [geek fans] references to some such thing as “high society,” to the idea that there is some kind of cultural elite that continues to disparage pop culture despite its total cultural and economic dominance. Here, too, are resonances with revanchist American conservatism: the vague feeling that, somewhere, shadowy elites are mocking you.
This is a great connection. I'd love to see an examination of the Tea Party as fandom, with analysis of cannon, OTPs, and etc..

(It also explains a lot of Reddit)
posted by postcommunism at 6:30 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I clicked on the link regarding "the subtler definition of fandom" first because it seemed most likely to be a thing I'm personally interested in -- I spend a lot of time in a sort of strange no-man's-land between "fan" and "creative professional," and I enjoy other people's attempts to suss out the boundaries of those spaces.

I was not prepared for the article/interview to make an abrupt and alarming course-change into casual misogyny. It started with:
Jaime: You don't "(generally)" disparage those fans, but you do, if I can paraphrase things you've said while looking at tumblr, "hate Dr Who fandom."

Jaime: Is that an accurate paraphrase?

Tanner: I mean, Doctor Who fandom is a whole other beast. Doctor Who fans (on tumblr, at least) seem to be younger and of a more female persuasion, which leads to a lot of saccharine, emotional garbage.
Then we move on to:
Tumblr is a weird space for fandom. Or, it's a weird space for me – for both me and Tanner – in that a lot of fandom crosses your path with much less effort on your part than you'd have to exert in almost any other platform. If I want to see Doctor Who fan art in my regular internet, I have to hunt it down, each time. On Tumblr, I decided once to follow the Doctor Who Tumblr, and now, daily, the fan art, the tributes. The mash-ups. The Death Cab for Cutie lyrics superimposed over color-saturated stills. I like that song. I like that episode. But together... On one episode of The West Wing, Sam Seaborne, speechwriter to the president, gets into hot water for disparaging a piece of writing by saying it sounds like it was written by a girl. He says, later, that he has no problem with the way a woman writes, but this was written by a girl. These Tumblr bits of fan art, they seem like they were put together by girls.

It's also worth saying that I think Doctor Who fans “seem to be... of a more female persuasion” because the day dream of the Doctor Who world – the way it lives in your head when you're away from it – fits best for a young woman. It's a lot easier to imagine yourself being a companion than being the Doctor himself.

Jaime: Let me know when you have some more downtime for me to get you to crank about Dr Who fandom more.

Jaime: (I think that British Avengers poster is going to factor in)

Jaime: It's super dumb

Tanner: send it

[fake movie poster]

Tanner: dumb

Jaime: What's even the point of that?

Tanner: So fangirls everywhere can fantasize about it and masturbate
I'm sort of not even sure what to say in response to this -- what angle to even approach it from? There's the dismissal of the output of female fandom as "saccharine, emotional garbage"; there's the implication that women can only engage with Doctor Who through a desire to be the Companion, because of course women just want to be swept along on adventures in which they have very little agency; there's the explanation that it's okay to disparage the work of "girls" because at least women aren't so silly, which then implies that young men of course never contribute to silliness or obsessed-with-sexiness fan culture. It's pretty gross!

And what makes me SUPER EXTRA SAD about the whole thing is that Jaime Green is a woman, and Tanner Ringerud is her boyfriend! Which hooks this whole conversation into the much larger pattern of women denigrating the fannish spaces that other women have created for themselves, in order to win points with the more acceptable and mainstream male nerd culture. Which then, in turn, contributes to the trend in which fans belittle each other to boost their own acceptability -- "I may be big enough comic book fan to be considering a tattoo, but at least I'm not some slash fanfic writing DOCTOR WHO fan, yuck!"

I don't think I'll be reading any more articles from this collection. I'm stressed-out enough this morning as it is.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:26 AM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Hey All,

First off, thanks for all the kind words on the Fandom Issue and the blog in general. It's been a labor of love for almost eight years now, and it's nice to get any kind of response.

NP: The Fandom Issue contains many different perspectives, some of which are contradictory or don't agree with each other. So yes, there's that moment you highlight here-- which is, yes, problematic-- but there's ALSO the two part interview with Salon's Laura Miller that specifically talks about the more troubling aspects of male fandom and the rise of a new kind of female fandom in the wake of the success of Twilight and an essay by Anne Moore applying queer theory to how fandom works. The issue doesn't speak with one voice, and you might find those more to your liking.

Anyway, thanks as always for reading and linking and voices your opinions.
posted by parabasis at 10:15 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think both of them were speaking too much from within fandom. One of the defining characteristics of fandom is liking a thing regardless of its merits or flaws, and that pleasure is derived less from critically engaging the cannon than from spending time within the cannon itself and expanding or reflecting that fictional world with fics, fan art, and so on. If there is critical engagement, it's usually of the type which plays games within the limits of the fandom (the Kessel Run handwaving, for example) and not anything informed by larger cultural context. So yeah, they're both still in fandom, whereas some of the other articles have a bit of thoughtful difference.

They're also being jerks. But they're being jerks in a kind of interesting way; the photoshop is noteworthy to them for being crude within their own fandoms (or rather, the larger World of Fandom), for approaching or appreciating the fandoms in some way they deem incorrect. Jaime and Tanner's objection is basically "ur doin it wrong!". It comes across as insecurity about being fans and all that entails, which includes fantasizing and masturbating - which Tanner means literally, but which is also shorthand for uncomplex, naive enthusiasm, the kind which urges you to co-create and thereby own (share in?) the thing which sparks that enthusiasm. He's not like those fans, the little girls. He's a fandom sophisticate.

And that pose, the harping on small differences and mocking people who like the same things you do and often in the same way (but not quite), is part of fandom too. Fandom isn't a guilty pleasure, it's getting really into things, investing part of your identity. It's pledging unreasoned loyalty to a (flawed, communal) fiction and becoming vulnerable to all the cringe-inducing dialogue and tumbler-delivered absurdities which that fiction and its fandom will inevitably produce. There's almost an element of helplessness to it. Maybe Tanner doesn't have the critical distance to appreciate the whole shebang, so he opts instead to be a jerk about girls. "Taste" matters a huge amount to certain fans, I think, for exactly that reason, and that's why their metrics for good taste can seem so silly.

Or maybe I'm reading way too much into a chatlog. Or maybe Jaime posted it as an artifact of fan culture rather than analysis. I dunno. This is a roundabout way of saying I enjoyed that article.

Fandom as a whole is tons interesting.
posted by postcommunism at 10:39 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

What's kind of curious to me is the idea of the "rise" of the female fan. I've been reading Textual Poachers, a sociological look at late zine and early internet fandom from the Eighties and Nineties, and I got the feeling that fandom (and especially fanworks) had a strong female showing already. There were some fandoms mentioned as being heavily male (Twin Peaks, for example) but then there was everything from Star Trek (relatively gender neutral) and Beauty and the Beast (heavily female and apparently romantic in a way not unlike Twilight fandom). It's interesting to hear about different methods of fandom, but sometimes I wonder if we end up erasing the existence of women there by positing this as a continually new development rather than an ongoing thing.

It's also kind of funny that non-creative (in the literal "creating things" sense) fandom is stereotypically feminine, while fans who consume or memorize culture are stereotyped as masculine, especially because that's the exact opposite of how those things tend to be gendered in other places. Of course, I think that's also because we've sort of moved some fanwork into "creative crossover" Pride and Prejudice and Zombies categories, where it's seen as art in its own right rather than a derivative, while focusing on the worst of stereotypically feminine fanfiction.

I was watching a PBS video on fanworks, for example, and a (male) artist and fanfic writer was talking about his own stuff, which he described as kind of absurdist. Then he mentioned Sherlock fandom, which as far as I can tell is relatively woman-heavy and has a lot of crossover with Doctor Who. He ended up talking about how he had no idea how these people got these ideas, how he had no idea if they were serious or what, and generally seeming shocked by the weirder ideas (in this case, a fanart showing the main characters as a corgi and a llama, trying to kiss, iirc.) What was strange, though, was that he seemed to completely disregard the possibility that they were, like him, doing self-consciously weird takes on a show. It was like the presence of romantic elements totally shut down the option that they weren't being 100 percent squee and serious, which is not at all my experience in most "girl fandoms."

The "geeks as Tea Party" comparison is complete truth, though.
posted by Tubalcain at 12:06 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those are interesting thoughts. Mind if i quote this comment on parabasis for people to discuss?
posted by parabasis at 12:15 PM on May 23, 2012

Sure, no problem.
posted by Tubalcain at 12:20 PM on May 23, 2012

yeah the geeks as OWS/Tea Party is a pretty interesting angle to pursue
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:23 PM on May 23, 2012

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