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[META] destinationtoast: 221B Con Fandom Stats slides: Master post Presented by destinationtoast, strangelock, and penns-woods – April 2014 Part 1: Why Stats Part 2: Popularity of Sherlock Holmes in fandom Part 3: Genres of fanfiction Part 4: Shipping and (a)sexuality Part 5: Response to Sherlock Series 3 Full slide deck (you can view the details of slides more easily here)

destinationtoast:

221B Con Fandom Stats slides: Master post

Presented by destinationtoast, strangelock, and penns-woods – April 2014

Part 1: Why Stats

Part 2: Popularity of Sherlock Holmes in fandom

Part 3: Genres of fanfiction

Part 4: Shipping and (a)sexuality

Part 5: Response to Sherlock Series 3

Full slide deck (you can view the details of slides more easily here)

[META] destinationtoast: 221B Con Fandom Stats slides: Master…

destinationtoast:

221B Con Fandom Stats slides: Master post

Presented by destinationtoast, strangelock, and penns-woods – April 2014

Part 1: Why Stats 

Part 2: Popularity of Sherlock Holmes in fandom

Part 3: Genres of fanfiction

Part 4: Shipping and (a)sexuality

Part 5: Response to Sherlock Series 3

Full slide deck (you can view the details of slides more easily here)

[META] Fandom Makes the Front Pages

Twice this week, the mainstream media has turned its attention to issues I normally encounter only within fandom discussions. In the first instance, the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly features an article about shippers, authored by Jeff Jensen. In the second instance, I was surprised to learn that issue #6 of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 Comics had, within three days of its publication, generated fourteen responses from mainstream media sources, including The Guardian and USA Today. Oddly, the shipper piece focuses mostly on shippers as target market, although the author both gets in his dig about shippers being “TV’s weirdest fans,” and also cites scholars who point to the social subversion that has animated many ship-driven fan cultures. By contrast the Buffy coverage focuses almost entirely on the plot development as a feminist response to the current political climate in the United States, and spends little time justifying its reporters’ attention to the cult television (and now comics) icon.

It turns out that, although fannish behavior is generally understood in the mainstream media as mere excess, fans do, increasingly, matter in at least two situations: when we distill cultural consumption trends for cultural producers, and thereby constitute a target demographic, and when our beloved source material turns out to bring newly-layered perspectives to real political issues, thus leading commentators to visit, or at least imagine a visit to, our world. The latter version of fandom on the front pages gives us more credit, but it is also more potentially volatile. It’s exciting to be a part of the “comics fans welcoming the development”(link), but it’s scary to know that so much of what one holds dear can simultaneously be presented to a careless and unforgiving public. Could I handle (and here comes the spoiler alert for the current Buffyverse development) a public trashing of the Buffy comics and of a woman’s reproductive rights on the same day? Add to that the reversion of shipping to its earlier meaning, of human labor facilitating the transfer of resources and capital, and it all starts to sound pretty overwhelming.

But, you might counter, that day is every day. It’s not as though the Buffy comics are any kind of critical darling of any mainstream reviewing sphere, and reproductive rights are rarely afforded unqualified support outside feminist-identified media outlets. As Mark Greif has argued in his n+1 piece, On Repressive Sentimentalism, in much of public conversation, “safe medical abortion, a fundamental social good in any sexually egalitarian society, an invention to be celebrated like the polio vaccine, must disguise itself as everything but what it is—the freedom from involuntary motherhood, owed to any woman young or old, to let her shape a life equal in freedom to those of men.” Whether or not one personally agrees with the entirety of Greif’s statement, and it happens that I do without reservations, the fact that the conversation has been forced into sentimental terrain improper to policy discussion is indisputable. Should I, then, be so surprised that the comments section on The Guardian article about Buffy’s hypothetical abortion contains hostility, both to abortion, and to the Buffy comics, as well as a particular contempt for their shared page space in this instance? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean that the intensity of my emotional response is without important context.

Fandom, as the EW article makes clear, is, for many of us, a space in which to explore desire, including its enactments and their concomitant consequences, beyond the constraints of those social worlds we otherwise inhabit, circumscribed as they are by such external factors as geographic location. This is not to deny that fandom itself is volatile, in its own way, already — fandom, too, is a world inhabited by human beings and therefore all the messiness of human communication. However, its volatility is different from the often-predictable kind of the public sphere, the kind that can have so many long, unproductive conversations about reproductive rights. In fandom, however, sentimentality is given its own space, and given the freedom to flourish according to the trajectories of individuals and specific sub-groups of fans, so that it doesn’t (in the best of times) seep into conversations that are actually about something else entirely, without first making its presence known. Abortion is something of a limit case for the roped-off sphere of sentimentality, hence my anticipation of emotional upheaval of unpredictable proportions at this latest development.

As Joss Whedon, creator of the Buffyverse well knows, popular culture has an incredible power to inspire meaningful conversation about important issues, particularly when there is a visible, engaged and savvy fanbase following each new development with a critical but generous sensibility. His choice to go public about his own approval of Buffy’s decision to get an abortion was not made randomly, or, I don’t think, as a cynical attempt to make money. There are much easier ways for him to make money than by temporarily drumming up interest in an installment of the ninth season of a long-arc serial. To be clear, this isn’t to say that I think that the comics belong on the same playing field as fanworks — they are a for-profit enterprise, and they engage regularly in various kinds of sensationalist marketing, and their authors deserve many of the serious criticism they’ve received from fans. However, I think that there is a serious distinction to be made between sensationalist marketing and an incitement to public conversation about a currently-contentious political issue, particularly one which lies at the center of the feminism that has, since the beginning, informed the concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In a moment in which fans are being noticed more and more by the mainstream media, in more and less exploitative ways, I think it’s important that we register these opportunities to take note of the differences between the conversations we’re able to have with one another, and the conversations that happen next to us, and, if only tangentially, about us. I am a Buffy comics fan, and I am excited about this most recent development. I’m so excited about it that I’m reading comments sections in The Guardian that I know will break my heart. But I know that I want the conversation to be happening, and I have hope that even 10% of the joy that is the intersection of Buffy and feminism will somehow seep into it. Shipping, to unite my two threads, might still strike many as akin to a million schoolgirl crushes, transcribed onto a notebook during study hall. But if it is more than that — if it constitutes a veritable reconsideration of how relationships are structured within complex social worlds, then the possibility of abortion starts to look less like a topical news item, and more like a social reality worth incorporating into the unfolding canon of any story that wishes to speak directly to a contemporary audience.

[META] Canon Ships, Fanon Ships, and What Readers Want

Last week, Henry Jenkins posted a compelling rant about the lack of “committed relationships,” especially functional marriages, depicted in contemporary television. Jenkins speculated that this could be partly because many writers “are twenty-somethings still recovering from their first major breakup,” and partly because there is a perception in the industry and among some critics that sexual tension ought to remain unresolved for as long as possible in order to sustain viewers’ interest. However, he claims that viewers only lose interest when, as he argues is the case for the current season of a show I don’t watch, and therefore won’t spoil for anyone who might care, the coupling comes at the expense of previously possible depths of “emotional maturity, any kind of psychological depth, and any kind of personal growth.” That is, this correlation between resolving sexual tension between significant characters and the waning of affective resonance of the show itself is unreasonably strong, and therefore, the question Jenkins asks is why, although they have the resources in terms of talented actors and narrative possibilities, many writers are unable to develop good storylines for committed couples.

As a proud shipper, who has devoted countless hours and weeks to pondering the complexity of Mulder/Scully, Daria/Sandi, and Spuffy (note the varying degrees of accordance with canon), I was excited to encounter Jenkins’s caveat that, in contrast to the shortcomings of television writers, “fandom is all about the relationships between characters, and fans are capable of pulling out insights into those relationships from the most subtle touch, the most nuanced reaction shots, and stitch them together through their stories and videos into stories which show how relationships can grow and unfold over time.” I share this understanding of the intellectual work of shipping, based on every fandom I’ve had the fortune to encounter. I wondered why, then, it mattered if indeed there was a lack of a certain kind of relationship on television today. After all, I know plenty of shippers in various fandoms who write epic marriage fic, which never lacks for emotional maturity, psychological depth, or personal growth. These serve as the cornerstone of many fanworks, even those produced by twenty-somethings (*cough*), and it seems to me that fans are not simply fantasizing about marriage and making it happen to characters who are portrayed in canon as being inadequate to the task. But even on that point, what I see is that there are complex, adult marriages nearly everywhere in contemporary television (or at least, everywhere enough when we consider how few non-marriage relationships, which face social hurdles beyond UST, are portrayed) — but rather, as in real life, these are often represented in the background of a broad social tapestry. Fans can focus on these relationships, and derive real satisfaction from drawing out the subtleties already present in the sourcetext that some of us may not have noticed initially, having been distracted by the soapier love plots played up by the promos. But the marriages are there — I’m wary of listing endgame couples, for fear of spoiling my favorite shows for the uninitiated, but they are there.

All this being said, I do understand Jenkins’s frustration. Perhaps my own perspective is skewed because of the extent to which my interest in shows is that of the shipper. I always have time to look for characters’ compatibilities with one another, and, the greater the depth with which these are explored in canon and fanon, the happier I am. I’m the kind of person for whom the relationships of Six Feet Under, for example, are almost never too melodramatic. That’s a show in which canon does a great deal of the work often performed by fanon, for various reasons related to its writers’ explicit interest in psychology, family, and love relationships, but I wouldn’t want to privilege it over other shows, which prefer to leave a trail of shippable traces, rather than to have their characters articulate every nuance.

But I do think that there’s an important truth in Jenkins’s concern, and it’s one I’ve seen reflected in another arena of recent debate, one judged by the New Yorker‘s Facebook page to be “just for fans.” I note this because I would normally rather talk about television than literature in this space, but I do think that there are some potentially interesting connections to be drawn out between Jenkins’s argument and Jonathan Franzen’s argument, articulated in “Farther Away: ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ David Foster Wallace, and the island of solitude,” which recently published exclusively on Facebook. On recent responses to Wallace’s fiction, Franzen says:

“The people who knew David least well are most likely to speak of him in saintly terms. What makes this especially strange is the near-perfect absence, in his fiction, of ordinary love. Close loving relationships, which for most of us are a foundational source of meaning, have no standing in the Wallace fictional universe. What we get, instead, are characters keeping their heartless compulsions secret from those who love them; characters scheming to appear loving or to prove to themselves that what feels like love is really just disguised self-interest.”

There is a difference, I think, between the specific kind of committed relationships Jenkins was longing to see, and this more general idea of “ordinary love,” but I think that they are intimately connected. Jenkins specifically suggests that his expectations for a complex committed relationship are high, because his show has already demonstrated a rare attention to the dynamics of other kinds of relationships, including friendships, partnerships, mentorships, and family relationships. It’s interesting, then, to compare these two arguments — one being a psychological argument about how a literary writer revealed much about his worldview by systematically thwarting emotional connections of various kinds among his characters, and the second, being about how a broad range of writers in a specific medium, namely television, persistently drop the ball when it comes to transitioning characters from an exciting and unresolved sexual tension into a committed long term relationship. But, perhaps because of my sympathy to the Wallace argument, I can’t help but respond in terms similar to Franzen’s, when he notes:

“how recognized and comforted, how loved, [Wallace's] most devoted readers feel when reading [his fiction]. To the extent that each of us is stranded on his or her own existential island…we gratefully seized on each new dispatch from that farthest-away island which was David.”

I see much of value in this part of his argument, and I think that, despite the author’s own unseemly relationship to fans of contemporary literature, he is on a page here, to which I’m happy to turn. Once again, there’s what’s represented within storyworlds, in terms of the percentage of “ordinary love” relationships versus dysfunctional attachments, and this ratio surely reveals something about a body of work. But on the other hand, in both literature and film, there are readers, passionate readers, and fans, and it’s our job to maximize the possibilities offered to us by the always-finite sourcetext. Sometimes it’s finite due to writerly shortcomings, and other times, it’s finite due to some more specific cultural confusion, as may well be the case in the context of marriage and marriage-like relationships in U.S. culture today.

But in any case, I just wanted to say that fans have told a wider variety of love stories than any other kind of writers. This being the case, I remain excited for the day when every polymorphously perverse and panfannish shipper has the canon moresomes and emotionally mature marriages of their dreams. But until that day arrives, I feel pretty well served by fanworks.

[META] Genre shift?

When I started reading fan fiction, around 2002, I ran across fan fiction of all ratings right away. I had vaguely heard of fan fiction and ‘zines as far back as the seventies, but I had never read any or even seen any except in passing. When I got interested in fan fiction, I found it online, and I ran across missing scenes that could have been slotted right into the original shows or movies or books, and I also ran across triple-X rated, *fans self* porn that most emphatically rejected the fade to black — sexually explicit stories that could never have been included in the original books or movies, but showed the characters we knew and loved in bed. When I first ran across the term “slash”, I wrongly assumed it meant any adult-rated romantic fan fiction story. Furthermore, I assumed that if fan fiction were grouped in any way, it would be divided into categories I knew from mainstream movies — the G, PG and PG13 stuff would be separate from the R and NC17 stuff. I was completely surprised to learn, the more I explored list-based and Livejournal-based fan fiction, that in fact the groupings were based on other concerns completely. The categories I found were gen, slash, femslash and het, and the boundaries between them were less about ratings for explicit sex or violence than about the presence or absence of romance, and the presence or absence of same-sex relationships. My preconceptions were, perhaps, a product of my 21st-century introduction to fan works. A little history, drawn from articles on media fandom (meaning fan communities that grow up around TV, movies, and other forms of pop culture), on Fanlore, this article by Coppa in Transformative Works and Cultures, and her chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet”. Fan fiction as written within media fandom seems to have been an outgrowth of science fiction fandom, and seems to date from the sixties and early seventies. When fan writers began weaving their own tales about Kirk and Spock and Number One and the Alien Babe of the Week, the male/male slash was hidden away in boxes under the tables, while the straight romances, even the explicit stories and the explicit art, were displayed widely at conventions, along with the action-oriented, plot-oriented fan stories whose focus was not romance and which became known as gen. Based on my readings in fan history, it seems that the first widely written femslash came out of Xena, and that fandom seems to have a separate history. (Please correct me if you have different information!) As we all know, societal attitudes toward same-sex relationships were harsh in the sixties in the USA — and still are, in many places. Because the Hollywood TV and movie canons we write about are so, so, so heteronormative, fan fiction that tells stories about intimate relationships between men or between women is usually pairing off people who aren’t presented as queer in the original shows or movies. (As an aside, the range of sexualities explored in fan fiction is limitless and often sets aside entirely the idea of sexual binaries.) So the objection to the earliest slash fan fiction often took the tack of: “Oh no! Don’t make that character gay!” Gay, lesbian or queer characters in mainstream Hollywood productions are very, very rare to this day. So if you hold out for only the romantic relationships that are present in the original canon, that means het (unless your fandom is Torchwood or one of the non-Western fandoms….). Of course, we’ll always have subtext, and certainly we are all watching different shows in our heads, and Hollywood is getting less reluctant to show us non-straight characters, but…. Let’s just say the lavender revolution is not yet in Hollywood. So my exploration of the history of fan fiction showed me a het+gen versus slash+femslash divide (and femslash is still by far the rarest category — all that history deserves a post of its own. In the meantime, I direct you to the Fanlore entry on Femslash, which is just fascinating.). But it’s my impression, and cryptoxin has written about this as well, that the het+gen/femslash+slash split is not as pronounced these days, two generations into what’s become known as media fandom. The lines that delineate the camps are blurring. Why is this? I’d love to hear your answers. I think it’s because movies and TV now include more female characters in roles other than Babe of the Week, and even occasionally pass the Bechdel Test. One reason that is sometimes advanced for the emergence of slash was the lack of strong female characters in television and movies in the sixties. I don’t know that I buy that, but it is true that fan writers now have a broader range of strong characters of both sexes from which to draw for our stories. So, my question is this: Do we have one fan fiction community now, instead of two or three or four? Or maybe we still have two, but a different two than slash+femslash and gen+het — maybe now we really do have the two categories I wrongly assumed almost a decade ago: Adult Rated, and Everything Else? And if these category lines have blurred, is it because society changed in terms of accepting queers? Or is it the shows that changed? Have vehicles like Buffy and Leverage and Stargate Atlantis and Queer as Folk and Torchwood, shows that have queer characters and female protagonists, driven the shift I see — the blurring of fan fiction genre lines and the lessening of negative judgments against each genre? For example, I rarely see today’s slash fans asserting that “there’s no good het” — and honestly, I always have a hard time understanding how bad het fanfic could be any worse than the badfic of any other genre! Another question: Did the internet accelerate the boundary crossing among fan fiction genres after, say, 1995? And, am I wrong in my additional impression that the fan enterprise of writing romances involving two people who are not traditional male/female, perhaps doesn’t horrify The Powers That Be as it once did? I do know that it was slash which captured the attention of the academic researchers, moreso than erotica of any other type, because it seemed “strange” that women would be interested in porn about two men. (Fan fiction is overwhelmingly written by women.) There’s a terrific discussion of this in Driscoll’s chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet.” But surely, such an interest is not strange anymore to academics? Or to Hollywood? Or is my personal comfort level with this type of fanfic — and with GLBT lit in general, for that matter — obscuring for me a colder reality? There will never be an end to ‘ship wars, of course, and probably never an end to gen-only fans ruefully noting what they see as a fan fiction community preoccupied with romance and sex at the expense of other kinds of stories, but at least within media fandom, it seems to me that the het and the slash and femslash and poly and noromo and bob fans coexist much more peaceably than in earlier days.