The Afterlife of Newsies
November 20, 2019 9:15 AM   Subscribe

And so, to dream of boys, I dreamed of myself as a boy—or of two boys together, my own sense of identification tied down to one, or fluttering lambently between them. In another time and place, I might have wondered if I was alone. In the world of Newsies fanfiction, I knew I wasn’t.
posted by Sokka shot first (10 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting this!

I saw Newsies in school when I was 9 years old and become OBSESSED. My fixation became notorious. The subject was banned by my parents and friends because I was such a pain, going on and on and on about the movie. I literally only saw it that one time, because my family didn't have a VCR or the Disney channel. But somehow I remembered every line. I STILL remember so much of it. Somehow.

Maybe because I was younger than the article writer when I saw Newsies, I didn't really care about the implicit romance between Jack and David or even really about any of the personal/romantic relationships between characters. I became obsessed with learning more about turn-of-the-20th-century NYC and labor history. The idea of these kids all having so much freedom and autonomy -- living independently, earning their own money, STRIKING! and standing up for themselves even against beguiling. And yeah, on top of that, they were all hot (to a nine-year-old) boys who were best friends with each other, lived together in huge dorms, very acrobatic dancers, and constantly showing off cool skills like precision use of a slingshot. I had this book that was all (real, historical) pictures of child laborers in the gilded age and I wore it to shreds, it fell apart. On the one hand, I felt so lucky to have an exponentially easier and more nurturing life than even these Disney characters but on the other hand, there was something so contrarily tempting about having to be independent and yet also having to live communally even as a child that...I dunno, something about it fascinated me so much at that age, I was really drawn to stories like that.

The character in Newsies that I related to the most was the adult journalist covering the story (weirdly enough) but the character that I was most obsessed with was Jack (obviously).

Such a strange movie for Disney to produce, but I'm glad that for whatever reason, they did.

What's funny is that the movie I was fixated on to an unhealthy degree before that was Hook, which led to me becoming absolutely obsessed with Peter Pan for a year or two. So, apparently I had a type.
posted by rue72 at 10:38 AM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

I was never into Newsies, and I didn't have access to a fanfic space when I was a teen, but I absolutely hear this:

If a boy kissed a boy—if a boy let a boy kiss him—no one had to lose, no one had to submit, no one had to be asking for it, or for whatever came next. You could just—kiss ...

...a world you could walk fearfully and joyfully within, freed from a life in which your body was a dangerous object that could, at any moment, cause someone to suddenly wish to dominate or destroy you.

This is an excellent way to describe the appeal of queer romance to women of any age.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:45 AM on November 20, 2019 [24 favorites]

Lovely essay, thx for posting. It's the rare beast of a longread that leaves everything implied.
posted by Sterros at 11:41 AM on November 20, 2019

I LOVE NEWSIES and love how WEIRD it was for Disney to make a pro-labor union, pro-strike MUSICAL starring Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall, and that kid from "Empire of the Sun" and that other kid from Doogie Howser. Being a fairly straight nine year old boy at the time, I didn't pick up on the now-obvious homoeroticism and just fantasized about joining a gang of streetrat kids to do mischief with and memorized all of the songs. Thanks for posting this, I will be spending some time with this one.
posted by Maaik at 12:35 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I never saw this movie, but I've heard of it forever. And this is a great essay; no need to see the movie (which, as an already grown and married straight cis male would not have had the same effect on me) to enjoy this essay. Other films have had similar effects on me.
posted by lhauser at 12:54 PM on November 20, 2019

Wow what a great article.

I'm worried that the freedom described in the article, for teenage girls to find and support each other (especially) by exploring their fantasies through fiction, is disappearing. Fandom was a niche interest in the early aughts and an alternative space where alternative values (like not judging teen girls' sexual fantasies) could exist.

Now fandom is mainstream and mainstream values about sexuality are making their way in. There's a big policing arm of fandom now, where young fans attack each other for "NSFW" fanworks of, especially, any character under 18 (even in alternate universes or post canon stories where they are now adults).

A big part of fandom now is young folks getting together in chat rooms (discord) to decide who's wrong or gross; and to coordinate attacks by writing call out posts and sending Anon hate and death threats or creating blocklists.

I had an experience similar to the author's, even though everything I wrote was worksafe. But I was friends with writers who wrote all kinds of stuff and we all read and commented on each other's writing, it was very supportive and nonjedgmental.

In fact, the was judgement came from the from outside, but the groups talking about "sexualizing children" and about the immorality of "darkfic" were explicitly right wing, religious, focus on the family type groups so it was easy to ignore.

Now supposedly progress fans use the same language I remember from the conservatives back then...It is really sad to me that fandom is dealing with this now. As an older fan, it's easy enough to shrug and ignore because I already have my friend group, and we mostly chat about real life stuff these days. The police see you are not going to change your mind and leave you alone. But the younger fans have to be really brave to stand up to the bullies.

This is mainly an issue on Tumblr btw. Here's a few posts about it:

That's just a few I had on hand - this comes up constantly in every place where old fans and new fans interact. It's sad and really limits the kinds of stories that you are "allowed" to tell esp for any piece of media where children are included members of the audience. (Note some of these fandoms aren't totally kids fandoms either.... Lots of anime and manga fandoms get targeted as "for kids" even if the original, Japanese audience includes adults. Because it's a very US centric view on top of everything else.)
posted by subdee at 1:33 PM on November 20, 2019 [10 favorites]

Please excuse typos guys, I'm typing from mobile. Hopefully it makes sense...

Anyway, I was out of fandom for seven years (2012-2019) so it was really surprising to me when I dipped a toe back in early this year to see this going on. I think it's a generational divide, related to

1) the mainstreaming of internet and fandom, new fans not being socialized into a culture of non-judgment

2) the sense of being tracked and judged always- that your posts are not just a reflection of your interests (or of interests that would not be acceptable in your "real" life) but somehow define you as a person, leading to people trying to constantly signal their virtue by producing only pure works;

3) good old fashioned bullying and using the TOS to bully now that tumblr has rolled over to advertisers and banned sexual content on the platform; the general need to conform to what advertisers want to see next to their ads;

4) the general swing, not just in fandom spaces but everywhere, toward right-wing, nationalist, conservative religious values;

5) good old-fashioned astroturfing. The language and tactics used by "progressive" fans is very similar to the language and tactics of what on tumblr they call "radfems" and "exlusionists" - groups who support lesbian and gay identities, but not trans, queer, ace, or other LGBTQ self-identifications. In other words, fandom is a queer space and this is an astroturfing tactic that I think is being deliberately used by some to divide the queer community.
posted by subdee at 1:50 PM on November 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm a Fandom Old, so I cut my teeth with the Newsies generation, although it was not one of my fandoms.

What's interesting is that in my time as a Tag Wrangler on Ao3, Newsies came back around in the wake of the musical. And what I saw in the tags was the next generation of queering the text, not only of leaning into the gay subtext, but making the characters trans, pan, nb, etc, etc, etc.
posted by DebetEsse at 10:45 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was never into Newsies fandom (X-Phile) but I really appreciated this line: "...incurring long-distance bills we sometimes couldn’t explain to our parents, because they knew to fear the internet as a place where grown men could prey on their daughters, but hadn’t yet thought to worry that it might be a place where their daughters would come together to share their fantasies."

Yep. My parents were pretty savvy for the time and yet even so fandom was my space and I never breathed a word to them about it. AO3 is even better than FFN and LJ and wow the quality of writing there, across fandoms, is amazing. The kids--and too those of us who have been here all along--are indeed alright.
posted by librarylis at 12:33 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was OBSESSED with Newsies in middle school and high school, along with a bunch of my friends. I still know pretty much all the words. It was almost uniquely perfect for fandom and fanfiction. I think part of the magic of it is the massive ensemble cast, who all get very little screentime. We could all pick our favorite characters and then elaborate on them however we wished, take what we liked from anyone else's characterizations and create this world far larger and deeper than the canon.

I think the piece hits on something that was really fundamental to my experience of Newsies fandom, which is the fantasy of getting to exist in a boys space as something other than a girl. I wish the author explored that a bit more. Slash fiction was a big part of the fandom, but a whole huge other part was OC fics. A lot of them were Mary Sue self-inserts, but that was expected, and almost didn't matter as long as it was written well. It was a whole community of girls imagining what it would be like to just be one of the boys, supporting each other in this fantasy, with the feeling that there was enough to go around. There were no newsgirls, but no real reason there couldn't be, and we all took that invitation to put ourselves there, by force if necessary, and make the boys accept us and treat us as equals the way we never could in real life. People would include other people's OCs in their own stories, creating these shared Newsies universes where we were all part of the same crew. The plot of the movie was almost entirely irrelevant. It was a fantasy of belonging in a world where teenage girls could be defined by anything other than being a Teenage Girl, could interact with others as anything other than a Teenage Girl, without having to radically change ourselves at the same time. It was magic.
posted by cosmic owl at 3:15 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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