Theorization of the Racialized Fan

”…I posit that the unexamined yet assumed whiteness of media fan spaces has allowed for successive theorizations about their workings to have now solidified into accepted histories. This positioning now forces any consideration of racial dynamics within those spaces to be considered as something additional to, rather than constitutive of, media fan identity. Because the activities of (white) women interested in reworking popular cultural texts have been the target of societal scorn (like Cath), the project for the reclamation of their practices has been constructed as a particular narrative around the ways in which fan communities engage with difference and how fan works engage with bodies and sexualities.

In this theoretical construction, any discussion of race becomes an exception, an interruption, and a bringer of fandom drama.”

Pande, Rukmini. “Introduction.” In Squee from the Margins: Fandom and Race, 12. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2018. 

The Man with Qualities

Twitter user kawí brought the idea of featureless protagonist in video games. There is a reason I didn’t make that connection before and that reason is a presupposition. Video games, to state the obvious, brings the question of games into the discussion. Then when we ask the question if the audience can identify with the reader insert, we have more than one answers: not only they are encouraged to see themselves in the character but they are the one committing their actions. The way the reader is encouraged to identify with y/n is also through this lack of features. But this character has their actions fixed in texts by nature which mark their preferences, they have bodies with which they commit these actions and these can easily differ from the reader’s.

When it comes to a story, a reader can find places that they can occupy. The Avengers have not travelled to their country in canon yet, maybe when they do, they will save them from an attack and become friends from then. If the barricade boys from Les miserable reincarnated, they could be an exchange student coming to their school. Their favourite idol could go on secret trips to a hole in the wall restaurant where they are already a regular but they don’t recognise them and maybe that’s what attracts the idol to ask if they can share a table… In reader insert, these places are already filled up as the position of the reader is fixed, the meeting of y/n with the fictional world is set. Maybe, there is actually less freedom for the reader to see themselves in the narrative this way.

What do you think, y/n?

Imagination Gaps: Crowdsourcing and Decolonizing Fandom

Previously, I talked about the linguistic and racialized gaps in fantasy worlds, specifically with respect to the construction of magic and magic systems. I’ve been pondering a lot about that still: how do we emancipate magic? Do we racebend, as in the case of a Desi Harry Potter? Do we rewrite histories to reflect the diversities of lived experiences across the world? Or do we still yet create new worlds of our own where Whiteness (and the Western world) is not the baseline for existence? 

To be clear, I think it’s probably all three, happening simultaneously. In a chapter discussing the existence of a racebent Hermione who is Black, Elizabeth Ebony Thomas says: 

Today’s readers are using the tools of social media to make meanings that are not just independent of authorial intent but that can also deliberately contradict it—which is to say that meaning itself is in the process of becoming outsourced and jointly imagined.

Ebony Thomas, Elizabeth. “Hermione is Black: A Postscript to Harry Potter and the Crisis of Infinite Dark Fantastic Worlds.” In The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, 156. New York: NYU Press, 2019. 

The idea of crowdsourcing meaning is endlessly fascinating and amusing to me; fan communities have been doing it long before it became a mainstream process. However, as often as queer readings are crowdsourced in fandoms, racialized readings are still marginalized to a large extent.

As Thomas says: 

While the production of transformative fanwork and vigorous discussion show that fans are invested in alternate worlds, there is a vast gulf between the acceptance of slash celebrating homosexual relationships between White cisgender male characters and the disdain for racial and ethnic diversity in many fan communities. This shows that not all alterities are created equal and creates an ontological dilemma that must be reconciled.

Ebony Thomas, Elizabeth. “Hermione is Black: A Postscript to Harry Potter and the Crisis of Infinite Dark Fantastic Worlds.” In The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, 157. New York: NYU Press, 2019. 

Fandom, I think, is at a crossroads in some ways; reconciling this ontological dilemma can be as simple and as complex as recasting Hermione as Black. It involves admitting that fandom has a racism problem, and decolonizing not just fan spaces, but the fannish, participatory self as well. 

But ultimately, emancipating the dark fantastic requires decolonizing our fantasies and our dreams. It means liberating magic itself. For resolving the crisis of race in our storied imagination has the potential to make our world anew.

Ebony Thomas, Elizabeth. “Hermione is Black: A Postscript to Harry Potter and the Crisis of Infinite Dark Fantastic Worlds.” In The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, 169. New York: NYU Press, 2019. 

Imagination Gaps: Magic and Language in SFF

I’ve been thinking a lot about magic this week. 

As an SFF writer (both in fandom and outside of it), almost all of my work involves building fantastical worlds and magical systems that are both realistic and believable. Systems in fiction more often than not depict systems in real life. “Magic” for me, as an urbanized and educated kid growing up in the Global South has translated to what can be captured within the confines of the English language—spells from Harry Potter or rituals from Supernatural, which draw their linguistic roots from Latin and the Judeo-Christian tradition.

In the introduction to The Dark Fantastic—Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, Elizabeth Ebony Thomas describes the lack of diversity in popular fantasy media for kids as an “imagination gap”, created by the lack of diversity in childhood experiences and teen lives depicted in kids’ media. She goes on to further argue that 

“[w]hen youth grow up without seeing diverse images in the mirrors, windows and doors of children’s and young adult literature, they are confined to single stories about the world around them and ultimately, the development of their imaginations is affected.”

Ebony Thomas, Elizabeth. “Introduction.” In The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, 1-14. New York: NYU Press, 2019. 

For me, this imagination gap has often manifested itself in a linguistic gap—one that has Othered me and my work, both within my own culture and that of the larger tradition of fantasy writing. English is a poor language to write in; it doesn’t make space for non-white vernacularisms very easily. And magic already exists in my culture—English just calls it “exotic”. 

What are some of the racialized imagination gaps you have experienced? How is “magic” perceived within your fandom spaces?

Dalong and Tiantian: who is less real?

Thank you for all the suggestions regarding reader insert narratives! I am going through them and will post about my readings later.

Two weeks ago, the new Transformative Works and Culture issue, Fandom Histories, came out. Among the many interesting essays, there was one that I could connect to my recent readings. Guo talks about RPF fans’ practices of interpreting history.

The first connection is obvious: my readings were about RPF, this paper talks about celebrity fandom. But it was especially interesting to me how historical reinterpretations as a result of a thorough look into historical sources was contrasted with what Martin described as fans seeking character resonance. Guo says about the latter:

 In general, as fans’ research has allowed them to perceive Guangxu in their minds as both a clearer historical person and then an imagined character, their discoveries and fantasies, in turn, enable them to understand and connect to Yunlong on a broader and deeper level.

Guo, Qiuyan. 2022. “Historical Poaching within Celebrity Fandom Practices.” In “Fandom Histories,” edited by Philipp Dominik Keidl and Abby S. Waysdorf, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 37.

If we view RPF as creating a character instead of learning about a real person, than these historical details can be building blocks for this character just like how actor interviews are used the same way.

Do you have similar experiences? What do you think?

Where is the author in reader insert?

These past weeks, reading about RPF, I danced around the question of the fan fictionalizing the very fan narratives that they live in. Yet so far I haven’t touched on a genre that appears to be more popular in RPF than in any other fandoms and makes this relationship explicit: reader inserts. It is almost as if it was easier to see the narrative creating process when it was not so explicitly presented.

Harder might the examination be, that’s why it brings some questions that might be productive to follow. Is there some significance to how reader insert stories seem to flourish in RPF fandoms? How do these stories create the fiction of a fan – something the author and reader share?

And finally: what literature about reader inserts would you recommend to me to read?

Meet the Volunteer: Shyamala

Hello, hello! I (she/her/hers) am Shyamala—feel free to rhyme that with Pamela—and I am the latest Fanhackers recruit. Armed with a B.A. from the Global South, an M.A. in English Lit and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, I’ve been writing fanfic since I was about eight. Some of my earliest fandoms were Beyblade, Power Rangers and Cardcaptor Sakura, from where I transitioned into the Hindi soap-opera fandoms that I concurrently played in with western media fandoms as a teenager. My current playfields are Supernatural, Sense8, 9-1-1, 9-1-1: Lone Star, and c-drama fandoms like Mo Dao Zu Shi, Tian Guan Ci Fu, The King’s Avatar, etc. 

While I enjoy writing fic, most of my fandom consumption tends to stem around podfic, which is one of my main academic interests in fan studies. I am a very auditory learner, and I’ve found that text-to-speech can shorten academic texts in a way nothing else can, while readers of podfic can spin familiar fics in unfamiliar ways by giving it their own voices. My own work, both academic and creative, has often centered around ideas of voice and space, stemming from my identity as a fangirl of both English and non-English-language fandoms growing up in the Global South. I am interested in the ways race can interact with the (dis)embodied performance in a podfic and what that means for larger questions of accessibility, both technological and otherwise. 

For my M.F.A. thesis, I wrote a YA fantasy novel exploring pleasure and play in everyday life in a tropical city, not taking on any Big, Systemic Thing, but focusing on the play and pleasure of everyday life in a queer tropical city populated as much by gods and deities as it is by ordinary folk doing extraordinary things. In contrast, fanfic is where I enjoy exploring traumas—tackling the Big Things that need 100k+ words to be Solved with a happily ever after. Worldbuilding is one of my absolute favorite things to do, as evidenced by the fact that a majority of my fics are fantasy AUs.

As a magpie nerd who likes learning shiny new things, I’m happy to chat! You can find me lurking on twitter. Live long and prosper!

The fiction of stars and fans as real people

(The question at the centre of RPF is) “what if?” This question is the question asked by each one of these Hiddleston fans arguing that he should be left some space. What if a man performed six nights a week in a highly emotional play and was then confronted, night after night, by fans outside the stage door, each one of them looking for a piece of him? What might he want, this man? And the answer is fanfiction.


The porn in slash and slash in porn

I have brought you a paper before that talked about how derivative practices appear in the work of porn studios. We can also observe porn fragments used in fanworks.

By their very nature, slash manips also make clear the oft-overlooked connections between slash and gay pornography, and in turn te contributions of gay male participants, who are well represented by the form.

Brennan, J. (2013). Slash Manips: Remixing Popular Media with Gay Pornography. M/C Journal16(4).

Are you familiar with slash manips? Have you seen gay porn used up in the making of fanworks?

Real Person Without the Fiction: Idol Success As Fannish Activity

In their work, describing the data manipulation tactics of fan leaders of Chinese idols’ fan clubs, Wu Xueyin describes two kinds of fandoms.

 Two categories of fan identities account for a large proportion of fans in Chinese fandom: only stan/solo stan (Wei Fen) and fans who ship their idol with other celebrities as a fictional/real couple (CP Fen).

Wu, Xueyin. 2021. “Fan Leaders’ Control on Xiao Zhan’s Chinese Fan Community.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

CP Fen’s activities could be more easily described with the familiar terms of transformative fandom.

Comparatively, CP Fen of Chinese pop culture belong to a loosely connected digital community. They tend to have a more casual and spontaneous attitude toward their daily practices. Most of them allow real person slash to be published within their Super Topics and some of them are even open to a more diverse interpretation of the idol’s image such as feminizing images of male idols or masculinizing those of female idols, while both of these are less tolerated in Wei Fen Super Topics. (…) Also, even though some of the CP Fen groups perform data manipulation as well, a large proportion of their daily activities are more spontaneous and less collective. The Untamed attracted a lot of CP Fen who ship Xiao Zhan and Wang Yi Bo; they upload the ship’s cute moments from the behind the scenes or clips of TV shows or video interviews. Some CP Fen also add likes or watch them multiple times to strategically promote the video’s popularity. But it can be observed from the comments that fans are having fun with it while they watch it; they make diverse interpretations of the video contents and contribute to the discourse of their relationship. 

Wu, Xueyin. 2021. “Fan Leaders’ Control on Xiao Zhan’s Chinese Fan Community.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

Shown in opposition here, is the data manipulation activities characterising Wei Fen.

(…)  even though the business model of BL (generally in the name of bromance to avoid censorship) pairings achieve some success, the media industry is still sensitive to homosexuality-related contents. Thus, in order to ensure their idol’s long term success, CP Fen are generally deemed to be in a lower moral ground in the fan community and excluded from the Wei Fen community. 

Wu, Xueyin. 2021. “Fan Leaders’ Control on Xiao Zhan’s Chinese Fan Community.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

(…) in the case of Chinese media fandom, fans devote their labor not for the use of content materials but to proudly be part of the cultivation of their idols. They proclaim themselves as “female data worker” (Shu Ju NüGong). The term might imply fans’ recognition of fan identity and the media industry. One the one hand, they recognize their labor is being exploited by the media industry as workers whose work is repetitious and uncreative. On the other hand they happily accept that because they know the data traffic they generate will be transformed into their idol’s success and they will be the ones who determine that success.

Wu, Xueyin. 2021. “Fan Leaders’ Control on Xiao Zhan’s Chinese Fan Community.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

Throughout the paper, though, we can see, how this success is also motivated by a narrative of the idol: a grassroots artist, an artist too kind to protect themselves, the innocent child of the mothering fans. The data manipulation is therefore enabled by a different form of fan gossip or imaginings, in these case centred around the idol’s and the fans’ shared success.

How do you see the role of an idol or other star’s success in fannish imagination?