[META] Wankety Wank

In the wake of the announcement from Jared Padalecki that his wife is pregnant, let us here consider the nature of wank. If you want to look into the wankfest to which I refer, you can go here. I don’t want to make this post all about Supernatural or the specifics of this one incident of tinhat craziness. If you’ve spent any time at all in fandom, you have probably encountered this sort of madness. You know how it goes – “X doesn’t love his wife REALLY, he has a secret gay relationship with his co-star Y, so the marriage is a sham arranged by their publicists, to protect their careers”. My understanding is that the most infamous case of tinhattery to date was (is still?) to be found in LOTRips and was centred on the Domlijah (Dominic Monahan/Elijah Wood) fandom. I’m sure that this plot unfolds with varying levels of intensity in many fandoms and, lately, SPN fandom has been carrying the tinhat banner.

I’m fascinated by the tinhat phenomenon. Now, please don’t think this is me trying to set myself apart from those OTHER, crazy fans, but I sincerely wonder why it is so important to some fans to believe that two men who have been slashed in fantasy MUST BE together in reality. It is as though they find it necessary to read the text of these two celebrities as having a slashy subtext in order to justify writing stories about them. And I don’t understand why that would be necessary. Fanfiction is fantasy. It is made up. I really do believe that the vast majority of people in fandom understand this. And RPS, despite being about two ostensibly “real” people, is also fiction. It has its own characters and themes, drawn from publicity material and gag reels and photos, yes, but still it is fiction. So what does it matter, as long as we keep it quiet and don’t push it in the actors’ faces at a con?

To say that the tinhat fringe consists of fans who simply possess a few more emotional tics than the rest of us (and by this I mean “who are nuts”) seems to me too easy. We all have our neuroses and our scars, and for all of our varied reasons, we find something therapeutic or comforting or exciting or fulfilling about exploring our fantasies in an on-line, anonymous forum. I really wonder if the folks engaging in the tinhatting are simply indulging another kind of fantasy, kind of “live roleplaying” a melodramatic RPS story with evil publicists and downtrodden gay actors and self-serving producers. I guess I want to believe that they are fans just like me – a bit eccentric but more or less ordinary.

From the tinhat phenomenon is inevitably derived the wank. The anthropologist in me observes wank – and wank about the wank, and the wanky wank report – with still more fascination. I wonder, if I observe fans being a little “nuts” and I decide to step in and let them know it, am I then joining in the wank? At what point does an intervention in the name of sanity become wank?

I wonder, if I met a wanker in real life, would they seem like a pretty average human being? If that is so, what emotional needs are being satisfied by wankery?

  • Dana Sterling

    If anyone could make sense of the tinhats, it would be you, I think. You are so analytical and clear eyed about all this.

    I am mystified, I confess. To me there’s a line there between fiction and reality, and the absolute need some fans to make the slash fantasies real truly puzzles me. And the hatred of the real life wives and girlfriends that goes along with it is very ugly to read about.

    I’m puzzled. But if you can make sense of it, I’ll happily read along.

    • Lisa Schmidt

      I don’t know if anyone would ever be able to promulgate a definitive theory! I could come up with one but I’m sure that insiders would disagree with it instantly.

      But I also am mystified by the need to make the slash true.

  • Naraht

    Tinhats are canon shippers gone bad, aren’t they? I say this with an awareness of my own fannish preferences: I’m a canon shipper with interests in both FPF and (mainly historical) RPF. In the latter you do get some acknowledged relationships but you also get some where you squint at the sources and say to yourself, “yeah, I think maybe they were an item.” An example might be J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, as featured in an upcoming film. Would you class advocating for that pairing as borderline tinhattishness, or something else entirely?

  • lilacsigil

    The place where I see the most RPF presented as completely real is when I walk past a newsagency and see all the gossip magazine covers in the windows: Angelina scorns Brad! Jennifer is having a baby! Nicole’s anorexia confessions! And those magazines are actually making money out of it – along with a good dose of misogyny in the form of body-policing and slut-shaming. Compared to that, the tinhats mostly seem kind of mild.

    It’s not always slash, either – X-Files fans from the mid-90s will remember the Gillian Anderson/David Duchovny “love story”, complete with evil producers and publicists! Maybe the only reason the tinhats stand out is because their version is not one often seen in gossip magazines – true gay love!

    • Lisa Schmidt

      You make a very good point! I didn’t think of that, but it’s true, gossip magazines are doing a brisk business in het RPF!

      Oh, and there was also the whole thing about Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart and fans insisting they were a couple… but then I guess they were vindicated eventually.

  • Kel

    Very interesting. Having been in both the Domlijah and J2 fandoms, allow me to add some insight.

    1) J2 (SPN) seems to me a MUCH bigger fandom. Domlijah may have been where the tinhat term arose, but J2 took it to a whole new level. This is likely because SPN is still on air and therefore fans retain their interest.

    I think SPN is rather unique because even after the guys got married, there are still a multitude of “True believers”. I recall that interest in Domlijah dropped significantly once they started doing press/once they were obviously dating women.

    As for why did/do we want to believe? For the exact same reason that we ‘ship any couple in any context – we want to believe that true love exists. Explain OTP and you’ll explain why people wish it were true.

    For me personally, because I saw chemistry between the couples, of course I liked to dream that they were together in real life. But as time passes, and they don’t come out, and they date/marry other people, I accept it wasn’t true. Doesn’t stop me wishing that it was. ;)

    (And the fans who can’t let go/bash the wives/girlfriends? They scare me.)