Congressional Fanfiction & Fic-As-Resistance

“… [S]ince the 2016 election, as American political engagement has boomed — the 2018 midterms had the highest voter turnout percentage for any midterm in 104 years — fan fiction scholars have noted a spike in stories featuring the U.S. Congress. What makes this boomlet strange is that at its core, fan fiction “is about genuinely liking a person,” says Dr. Amber Davisson, coauthor of Politics for the Love of Fandom: Fan-Based Citizenship in a Digital World. And historically, well, not many people like Congress. As of August of this year, the institution’s average Gallup approval rating was 17 percent — somehow an improvement over the first half of this decade.”

Before this article, I had no idea that congressional fanfiction existed. I’m Canadian, so it’s not something went looking for for obvious reasons. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Despite the fact that fanfiction does have its roots in a love for whatever is being written about, it’s also a form of expression whose very purpose is to transform a work into something else. It’s about love, yes, but love for something doesn’t mean you have to like it all the time. Sometimes, loving something is about wanting to make it better. In other words: just because I don’t approve of Congress, doesn’t mean I don’t want to see a world in which I do approve of it. Disapproval does mean an absence of love.

Though the article goes on to talk a little bit about this, it fails to mention that nothing about this “boomlet” of congressional fanfiction is strange, because it’s doing what fic has done all along: transforming the work. From Camille Bacon-Smith’s Enterprising Women (1991), to Anne Jamison’s more recent fic (2013), fandom and fanfic scholars have argued that part of what makes fanfiction such an interesting medium is its resistance to its source material—whether that be through gender or race-bending, Fix-It fic, or through the plethora of AUs that have come into regular circulation among fan communities.

Of course, all these things most definitely also have their problems. Racism and fetishization exist in our communities just as they exist everywhere else on the Internet and beyond… but the rebellious way that fanfiction reclaiming narrative is a perfect vehicle for working through feelings of frustration, hopelessness, anger or joy—and these days, a lot of those feelings get tied up in politics.

How do you feel about congressional fanfic? Did you know it existed? Are you surprised? Let’s talk!

Ashworth, Samuel. 2019. ‘McDreamy, McSteamy, and McConnell’. Blog/Magazine. Longreads (blog). September 2019.

Chi Luu: All the feels: the morphology of reaction gifs

In this article, Luu examines reaction gifs as formed in the context of second literacy (the phrase ’second literacy’ comes from Marshall McLuhan’s book, Understanding Media and it’s based on the idea that language works so radically different in writing and in digital writing that they are separate literacies). I would call attention to the part that might be the most interesting to the research of fandom communities:

„Thus, reaction gifs identify gestures in body language which are already prevalent in general pop culture. These are further defined and stylized through frequent usage by an online community. It is because these emotional responses are often well-worn tropes from film and narrative, based in a culture’s knowledge of nonlinguistic cues, that they can be more easily shared and understood. Simple emoticons can be used straightforwardly in text to signal an emotional cue. A reaction gif seems to be used more creatively as a meta-commentary than purely authentically for conveying emotion (and) it could be argued that it was not until the popularity of reaction gifs that speakers began to develop a robust shared lexicon of online gestures and that this began to move into speech itself.”

The part I would emphasize is how Luu draws a difference between trying to convey the speaker’s body language (which is also part of any written language) and invoking pop culture trope gestures. The repetetive using of these gifs extends our vocabulary beyond words and idioms: now we have reaction gifs (and memes and emoticons), too. Of course, even people outside of fandom use this vocabulary, too. But to understand why there is an added layer to communicate Captain Picard facepalming, we need to look at fannish practices and fannish usage of language (and as any linguist would tell you that, that is an infinitely fascinating area).

Luu, Chi. 2015. “All the feels: the morphology of reaction gifs” JSTOR Daily

Meet the volunteer: Dorottya

Hello! I am Dorottya, part of the rogue crew of academics that is the Fanhackers. My first fandom experience was on the Hungarian fan fiction site, Merengő (named after the Pensieve) in the 2000s, so on the one hand, I’ve been around since the 2000s.

On the other hand, I have no memory of the fandom of the 2000s as many of my colleagues at the OTW would know it. My first fandom was Harry Potter. Since then, I’ve been really enjoying transformative works relating to Star Wars, Star Trek, Jane Austen’s works, Studio Ghibli movies, and His Dark Materials. My favourite tropes concern arranged marriage, worldbuilding, philosophical discussions (that sounds pretentious, but I just love it so much when either the narrator or one of the character starts nerding out) and college AUs (even though I am still in college and I find nothing inherently trope-worthy in it, when I live the finals, seminars and the lack of sleep). I’ve always found fandom a delightfully postmodern experience.

I have a literature and linguistics major and anthropology minor BA, and I’m currently doing my masters in literary theory at ELTE. My BA thesis was about how fandom creates its own register (which, if you’ve already finished your BA, you will find an incredibly foolish question to answer with a BA thesis). I do agree with BA!Dorottya that pre-internet fandom and post-internet fandom created its register entirely differently, and I do think that this can partly explain how we got the interpretative communities that we have, but I don’t aim to describe this in less than 60 pages. My next challenge probably will be along the lines of the implied reader (which would also help to herd my topic back into the territory of literary theory). (The Implied reader is a neat concept, which you can start to learn more about here and here.)

If you want to nerd out together about any of the above topics, say hi on Twitter.

I’m really looking forward to nerding out about fandom studies with all of you. Live long and may the Force be with you!

Where can I publish my undergraduate paper on fans?

bakurapika asked: I had an undergrad paper in 2015 or so about roleplay on tumblr (specifically the vocabulary in use). I don’t suppose that’s something I could post somewhere useful?

Excellent question. If you want to publish an undergrad paper about fans online and make sure people can find it, I’d suggest the following approach:

Step 1: Upload your paper to a reliable, non-profit research hosting service

There are many online services designed to share research with the world. Many of these also accept undergraduate work. Research support specialists at university libraries usually recommend hosting your research on a well-established non-profit service, like Zenodo or figshare. These are essentially AO3s for sharing academic materials instead of fanworks. Just make a free account, and you’re ready to upload and share your work. You don’t need to be affiliated with an academic institution to host your research on Zenodo or figshare. These services will preserve a secure copy of your work in perpetuity, for free, with a license of your choice (Creative Commons licenses are very useful). You can host and share not only papers, but also other research materials like datasets and presentations.

Note that there are also some well-known for-profit services where researchers share work, especially, which has a great deal of people on it. You may want to put your work there as well to reach a larger audience. However, we caution against making for-profit services the one and only forever home of your research materials. Academic publishing has a lot of issues with for-profit entities trying to exploit the free labor of researchers. Not unlike fandom, really! This is a long story that we’ll get back to a lot on this blog. In short, for reasons, research support specialists recommend non-profit over for-profit services for now.

Step 2: Add a reference to your paper to the OTW’s fan studies bibliography

When you’ve given your paper a safe online home, it’s time to make sure people actually find the information. Add the paper to the OTW’s bibliography so that others searching for fan studies work can find it easily. Undergrad papers absolutely belong in this bibliography. To add your work, drop us a note with the link to your paper. As described on the bibliography page, you can also add pages by making your own account on Zotero, the software that’s the backend of the fan studies bibliography.

Note that Zotero is designed for serious business academic use and can be a bit confusing if you’ve never used it before. Don’t hesitate to just send us a link if you don’t feel like learning a whole new bibliography management tool! We’re totally happy to add things for people. (But if you need a bibliography management tool, do learn more about Zotero. It’s free and open source, and very good at what it does.)

Optional step 3: Add content from your paper to Fanlore

People come to Fanlore to learn more about the past and present of all aspects of fan culture. If you add the most interesting or informative parts of your paper to relevant Fanlore articles, you greatly increase chances that other fans will find that information. Find the Fanlore article(s) that are most closely related to your paper, and add sections from the paper wherever they seem to fit. Fanlore has some good how-to info if you’re new to editing a wiki. You can add a link to your paper on Zenodo or figshare in the References section of the Fanlore article.

Hope this helps! This is only one of many ways to share undergraduate papers on fan culture, of course. Do let us know about any other questions or suggestions you have.

Meet the volunteer: Nele

Hi everyone! I’m Nele (she/her), and while I’ve been involved with Fanhackers for a long time, it’s been years since I actually said hello by name. So, intro post for me too.

I’m unjapanologist on Twitter and Tumblr. I live in Belgium and have two jobs: research support specialist at a local academic library, and Japanese to English translator. Fannishly, I started out with Jurassic Park and Elfquest in the nineties, then fell into a long list of Japanese classics from Zetsuai 1989/BRONZE to Fushigi Yuugi and Gundam Wing. These inspired teenage me to choose Japanese studies at university. (Thank you, boys’ love manga and old-school yaoi fandom, for my career.) I later had the unavoidable Harry Potter phase and have been cycling through a range of fandoms since. My current fixations are Dragon Age and IT.

I encountered fan studies just as I was gearing up to start a PhD in Japanese studies. For me, the field was a source of endless inspiration, fun, and encouragement from other scholars and fans who were excited about my research on Japanese dojinshi creators and happily supplied both support and concrit. I loved both the welcoming people in fan studies and the endless variety of perspectives that they offered. Studying fan cultures meant that I had to learn about copyright, community formation, the technical underpinnings of tools like websites and social media, how our economic system influences what people do with media, and so much more. Fan studies gave me the opportunity to really dig into many topics that are crucial for understanding our (digital) world.

It also pushed me to develop an interest in how and why people create and exchange works just for fun, without wanting to profit off of them. I got the chance to publish some early musings on that in Transformative Works and Cultures, the open access academic journal of the OTW. Learning more about the open access movement helped me realize that fannish publishing is weirdly reminiscent in many ways of academic publishing—especially in the sense that it’s people with non-profit motives trying to get stuff out there while navigating a fundamentally for-profit publishing system. That interest in academic publishing led me to keep volunteering for the OTW on Fanhackers, and also to my spanking new job: I just started working at a university library in a team that supports researchers in doing and publishing open, accessible, and collaborative research, with a focus on research data.

So! For Fanhackers, I’ll be working on the OTW’s fan studies bibliography and talking a lot about the practicalities of how fans can participate in research on fan culture. Where can we find existing research on fans? How can we access articles that seem to be behind a paywall, so we can use them for our own research? Where and how can we publish our writings on fans? If an academic somewhere is doing interesting stuff on something we know a lot about, how can we get involved? And so on. If you have any questions on that, drop us a note via our website or Tumblr.

“Dysfandom”: Fandom as Resistance

“I refer to this concept of a fandom who is said to be behaving badly, that is, excessively, as dysfandom, attaching an inseparable Greek prefix to a Latinate word, one which, per Liddell and Scott, is capable of ‘destroying the good sense of a word or increasing its bad sense’ (cited in Harper 2016). Both showrunners and fans with divergent beliefs may view dysfandom as dysfunctional and excessive, disproportionate and in need of discipline; dysfandom is subject to having its activities forcibly curtailed, told to be silent, or those who posit themselves as not within dysfandom will urge others to ignore it.”

This a really useful way to refer to a fandom that is doing things that perceived to be “rowdy” and “unbecoming” in the eyes of both non-fans and fans. This term does a great job of describing what is and is not acceptable collective fan behaviour, especially now that fandom, at least as understood in a Western context, is more normalized. As much as we’ve moved on from the cease-and-desist days of our predecessors, acceptable fan behaviour still has a very strict code of conduct. This is particularly of those outside fan circles.

Lowe’s term is not an attempt to pathologize fandom as in the past—that is, to make fans seem abnormal or unhealthy or like there’s something wrong with them. The term is a reclaiming of this harmful stereotype. Though this paper covers the disastrous results of the CW’s 2014 #AskSupernatural Twitter hashtag, it would be easy to make the argument that the GoT petition to rewrite its last season is another case of dysfandom. The petition not only made news, but painted fans as delusional or cute for even attempting to get a re-write. Even stars Kit Harrington and Sophie Turner got involved, publicly criticizing the petition and fan reaction.

Whether or not you watch Game of Thrones, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that dysfandom is a pretty cool term. It’s used to describe instances where fandoms are at their most badass: when, much like a feminist killjoy or nasty woman, they’re behaving outside the bounds of what is socially proper.

Lowe, J. (2017), ‘We’ll always have purgatory: Fan spaces in social media’, Journal of Fandom Studies, 5:2, pp. 175–192, doi: 10.1386/jfs.5.2.175_1.

Meet the Volunteer: Alex

I’m Alex, and I’m a fanhackers volunteer! I was first introduced to fandom roughly twelve years ago, and haven’t looked back since. As with many people, fandom has been an anchor during some of the most difficult times of my life, allowing me an outlet for creative expression, a safe space to explore my identity, and access to a community of fantastic people with whom I’ve formed meaningful and lasting relationships. I’ve come a long way from the girl who would spend summer nights writing 100k+ self-insert fic at my grandmother’s kitchen table (I had about three jumbo notebooks full of the stuff).

Just to be clear: I still do that. But a laptop is more speedy than a pen and paper, and adulthood means I can write praise!kink without interruption and into all hours of the night. With the confusing mess that was my undergrad behind me—I have half a B.Sc. in environmental science, an honours in English literature and a minor in Irish Studies—I’m now pursuing a Master’s degree in Publishing, focusing on the intersections of fanfiction and the traditional publishing industry. It’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

I tend to join a fandom and stay there for a long time, and my home for the foreseeable future (though I visit fandoms extensively) is Supernatural. I’m weak for one fallen angel and world-weary hunter, and the found family the show has built and destroyed and built again. Other side-obsessions include: Sense8, Schitt’s Creek, B99, The Good Place, Killing Eve, Jane the Virgin, Derry Girls… the list goes on and on. 

At the end of the day, I’m a Big Nerd just as obsessed with fans and fanworks (of all kinds) as I am with the source materials they transform. And I am beyond excited to meet new fans and geek out together, whether that be by writing posts or sharing submissions!

Fanhackers relaunches new and improved website

The team behind Fanhackers, the OTW’s project to make fan studies research accessible to fans, is excited to announce the relaunch of our WordPress site.

Over the past years, we’ve built a wonderful following on Tumblr with quotes from academic and non-academic research on fans. We’ll stick around on Tumblr, of course. However, the new site will be a more stable platform to preserve our content. It will also make it easier for us to expand to other platforms and to support non-blog projects that Tumblr can’t accommodate easily. This week will also see our Twitter account starting a regular schedule of updates, so if you’re active there please follow us!

What’s on the new site? The blog, first and foremost, and all the content shared by fannish and scholarly contributors since 2011 (remember when it was the Symposium blog?). We’ll keep filling the blog up with interesting news, quotes from new and old fan studies research, tips and tricks for tools and methods to study fan culture, and advice on how to contribute to the OTW’s open access journal Transformative Works and Cultures.

We also have a fan studies bibliography that contains almost 3,000 items. The new website offers a more accessible introduction to the bibliography and a simpler way to search our treasure trove of academic work on fans. It also sets the stage for some very exciting new bibliography functionality that will help us make this research easier to find, read, and interact with.

Part of the OTW’s mission is to ensure that better information about fans is available to fans and the general public alike. Fanhackers has been key in this mission, sharing research with fans and providing greater insight into fan studies history by highlighting key works and collecting what’s already out there. If you’d like to see interesting snippets about what’s getting written and researched, why not subscribe to Fanhackers on Tumblr, Twitter or the RSS feed of our revamped WordPress site?

Similarly, if you have any questions or suggestions for how the project can better serve your needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Fandom isn’t just fandom. It’s an institution where many people learn a lot about life since they tend to get into it from a young age. And if fandom itself isn’t capable of recognizing when it’s going wrong because desire is clouding the mind and clunking up folks’ critical thinking skills, maybe a little help is necessary. Conversation starters need to be had.