“Fan perspectives of queer representation in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow on Tumblr and AO3,” by Rachel Marks

How do fans engage with the source material when there’s already canonical queer representation?

Rachel Marks looks at the fandoms for the DC Comics TV shows (like Flash, Supergirl, Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), which have been including queer characters since 2014 when the characters Sara Lance and Nyssa al Ghul shared a kiss in Arrow. Read the whole article for free, which is in the newest issue of the open access journal, Transformative Works and Cultures: “Fan perspectives of queer representation in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow on Tumblr and AO3.”

Marks finds:

– Fans generally appreciate and care about queer representation in Legends, but they often overlook representation of people of color. For instance, pairings with characters of color get less attention.

– Canon queer pairings get the most attention, but noncanonical pairings are still common.

“In sum, Legends fans show their appreciation for canon queer representation in television by frequently featuring canonically queer characters in their posts, highlighting the positive qualities of those characters and their relationships. Fans appreciate seeing multiple LGBT characters represented on television and get enjoyment out of seeing same-sex couples being couples on screen. However, this is not all they focus on when blogging or writing fic about their favorite characters or ships. Fans want to enjoy viewing canonically queer couples and queer characters on television, but they also want to enjoy alternative interpretations in which noncanonical ships are read for their subtextual elements. Fans simultaneously enjoy watching and creating content about a show that has canonical queer representation, while continuing the queer fan tradition of forming their own interpretations of queer characters and relationships.”

– Rachel Marks

The friends we made along the way

Discussing who the characters are and what canon is, is one of fandom’s most familiar activities.

Fan reading, however, is a social process through which individual interpretations are shaped and reinforced through ongoing discussions with other readers. Such discussions expand the experience of the text beyond its initial consumption. 

JENKINS, HENRY (1992). TEXTUAL POACHER, ROUTLEDGE, 101.

In the prevalence of this activity, we might see, not an interest in any final answer, but how the discussion itself legitimizes the existence of a canon.

It is further linked to a tendency for viewers to apply some criteria of fidelity to the adaptations, as most assume that the webtoon has canonical status and hence primacy on determining the contents and significance of the story.

Lee, Sung-Ae. “The Web of Story Across the Multiple Platforms of South Korea’s Cheese in the Trap.” Essay. In Transmedia in Asia and the Pacific – Industry, Practice and Transcultural Dialogues, edited by Filippo Gilardi and Celia Lam, 35–58. Palgrave Series in Asia and Pacific Studies. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.

At the recent Fan Studies Network North America Conference, Clark talked about negotiating a character’s key attributes even after (or even more so) as the canon material comes to an end.

Clark, John. “Pokémon, I’m Glad I Got to Meet You!: Reckoning with the End of Ash Ketchum’s Journey in the Pokémon Fandom.” In Re: Fandom – Fan Studies Network North America Conference, 2023.

Silberstein-Bamford, at the same place, discusses the strategies fans use to manage the different attributes of the same character.

Silberstein-Bamford, Fabienne. “Refine, Revise, Rethink: The Fluidity of Character in Fanfiction.” In Re: Fandom – Fan Studies Network North America Conference , 2023. 

In these discussions, we can see that the act of negotiating these character’s identity, fans, at the same time, construct said identity: if there can be a discussion about who this character is, they certainly are and their identity can be fixed – if for the length of a fic. Then again for another one. Then again.

We are asking for your feedback on the Fanhackers discord server

We have had time for the FSNNA conference experiences to settle. There were certainly some riveting talks and novel ways of presentations (including playable games) and we could watch it all in your company.

This was possible because we just launched Fanhackers’ discord server. Such a novel experience for us! Let us figure the way forward together.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScXS36xmNmF1QO4Lay_dIfrsh0W0YKUNBn4q5tmhG1DKPWpHQ/viewform

How To Be Gay, by David M. Halperin

While there are obvious fan studies classics, there are other books that don’t always fall into the “fan studies” canon that I have found incredibly useful for my own thinking.  I cited one of them, Carol Dyhouse’s  Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire (2017), a few posts ago; another is David Halperin’s How To Be Gay (2012)

How To Be Gay came out of a course Halperin taught at the University of Michigan, whose full title was “How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation.”  The initiation in question was not sexual, but cultural:  Halperin believes that there are not only gay texts, a gay canon of sorts, but also gay ways of reading that are taught and learned and that help constitute something we might call a gay subjectivity (that you don’t have to be gay actually to have):  e.g. Hollywood movies, opera, Broadway musicals, camp, diva worship, drag, muscle culture, style, fashion, interior design. Halperin asked both why this set of things–why musicals? why this diva or that–and what do they tell us about gay experience? Halperin was trying to trace “gay men’s characteristic relation to mainstream culture,” which often involves collaborative and camp appropriation: a queering.

I find this book very useful, both because fandom also has its own shared languages and rites of initiation (consider the idea of watching something with fannish goggles or slash goggles or a fanfic lens, as was recently discussed in a previous post; think about all the languages and tropes and artistic structures we all learn from each other) but also because Halperin talks about modes of identification that aren’t representational or based obviously in identity politics. So, for example, he says that the gay male students in his class were more likely to express themselves vis a vis a shared text like  The Golden Girls than vis a vis the traditions of what Halperin calls “good gay writing.” There is, Halperin argues, a queer pleasure in the Broadway musical that’s different than the pleasures of gay identity or even gay sex; similarly, queer female fans might find pleasures in identifying with, say, Sherlock, Crowley, or Blackbeard that are very different from the pleasures offered by a woman- or lesbian-centered text. 

Here’s an excerpt that gives a good sense of the book, I think: fans might identify with this or recognize it as descriptive of their own fannish feels.  (FWIW, the italics are all his!)

[H]omosexuality is not just a sexual orientation but a cultural orientation, a dedicated commitment to certain social or aesthetic values, an entire way of being. 

That distinctively gay way of being, moreover, appears to be rooted in a particular queer way of feeling. And that queer way of feeling—that queer subjectivity—expresses itself through a peculiar, dissident way of relating to cultural objects (movies, songs, clothes, books, works of art) and cultural forms in general (art and architecture, opera and musical theater, pop and disco, style and fashion, emotion and language). As a cultural practice, male homosexuality involves a characteristic way of receiving, reinterpreting, and reusing mainstream culture, of decoding and recoding the heterosexual or heteronormative meanings already encoded in that culture, so that they come to function as vehicles of gay or queer meaning. It consists, as the critic John Clum says, in “a shared alternative reading of mainstream culture.”

As a result, certain figures who are already prominent in the mass media become gay icons: they get taken up by gay men with a peculiar intensity that differs from their wider reception in the straight world. (That practice is so marked, and so widely acknowledged, that the National Portrait Gallery in London could organize an entire exhibition around the theme of Gay Icons in 2009.) And certain cultural forms, such as Broadway musicals or Hollywood melodramas, are similarly invested with a particular power and significance, attracting a disproportionate number of gay male fans.

What this implies is that it is not enough for a man to be homosexual in order to be gay. Same-sex desire alone does not equal gayness. In order to be gay, a man has to learn to relate to the world around him in a distinctive way.  (p. 12 – 13)

The Classics of Fan Studies: Matt Hills – Fan Culture

The classic of fan studies I want to introduce today is a theoretical overview of the discipline from 2002. Indeed, in Fan Culture, Matt Hills explores the different theories of fan culture and the methodologies that had been used by scholars before him. 

I particularly like the first chapter in which Hills challenges the idea that there is a dichotomy between passive consumers and resistant fans:

“Conventional logic, seeking to construct a sustainable opposition between the ‘fan’ and the ‘consumer’, falsifies the fan’s experience by positioning fan and consumer as separable cultural identities.”

In this chapter, he demonstrates that fans are also consumers and that depicting them as a separate group ignores the complexities and multiplicities of fandom. 

While I found this book compelling, I would only recommend it to people who have read some fan studies works already as it might be a bit complex as a first introduction to the subject. However, if you are interested in fan studies theory and methodology, this is the book for you!

When building a spear, what matters: you, building or the spear?

At the recent FSNNA conference (were you there? Did we meet? If you’ve been there, the panel recordings and the discussion space is still available for a week.), Katherine Crighton, Dr. Naomi Jacobs and Shivhan Szabo introduced an online game where you can create new fanworks for your blorbo for the newest fannish sensation: Blow the Man Down. The catch is, this fannish sensation is not a TV show. The story is reverse engineered through the fanworks created for it, but in a sense, it doesn’t exist. Your blorbo also doesn’t exist. My blorbo is real cool, though, their name is Bogdán.

When it comes to fannish creation, there are some key theories to reference. Participatory culture is one, we also talk about gift economy, affective labor; can they possibly explain why we are able to act fannishly when there isn’t even a canon to be fans of? Are we experiencing real feelings for a fake blorbo because we participated in their creation, committing to this silly man? Or is it because of the nature of the work, we used fannish practices to create them, which is inherently affective? Or is it, as the presentation already points out, due to the spear theory: we build our blorbo by piercing many blorbos through and that creates our type? I dare you; play the game and let us discuss our experiences. Or if you’ve ever gonched, what did you think of it?

Participating in research about the motivation of fanfiction authors

Want to take part in a study on motivations for writing fanfiction and help out a fan studies researcher? Gaille Alyssa Stanley from the University of Cyberjaya (UOC), Malaysia has received approval from their Ethics Review Board for their study and is looking for fans 18 years old and above who write and publish fanfiction online without receiving monetary profit.

The online questionnaire is 14 questions and estimated to take 1 hour. All information will remain private and confidential. The information will not be disclosed to anyone other than the researcher and supervisor. The data will be collected anonymously and no personal data (e.g., name and address) will be required, except for email address as a means of communication. The data of the study will be used solely for research purposes and will not be shared to any external parties.

You can find out more about the study and access contact information at the consent form link:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeZbWErfcuaRwcszzvR9EMDqNe5P_ysmptLay_DklLjk2eDsA/viewform?usp=sf_link

The Japanese Paper Film Project

Acafans, vidders, and fair use advocates might know film studies professor Eric Faden as the maker of A Fair-y Use Tale, a mashup of Disney films used to explain copyright law and fair use.  We were often on the same panels  on the fair use/ remix video circuit of about ten years ago, and I am a huge fan of his work. I’m currently writing something about his video essay Amuse-Oil, which speaks to me deeply as a vid-fan and vid-scholar: it’s an essay about looking where you’re not supposed to look in the frame. (We know a lot about that!)

But it’s Faden’s most recent work that I want to bring to fandom’s attention: he and his team have been working on preserving a number of Japanese films from the 1930s that were shot on paper–yes, paper!–instead of celluloid. And he’s just launched a website, The Japanese Paper Film Project, about these fascinating early movies.  Fans of anime and/or Japanese cinema (or just animation more broadly! Or cinema made with strange materials!)  might be interested in seeing these films, which are in the process of being scanned so they can be viewed.  

Some of the films even have soundtracks on 78 records: you can see a sample here

–Francesca Coppa, Fanhackers volunteer

A look at fandom and academia as coming out of the pandemic times

During the pandemic, we, fans, have been able to rely on some of our already existing coping mechanisms to deal with the increased strain of our mental health due to the global crisis. Participants in a study about the mental health of PhD students during the pandemic responded that their coping strategies mainly included social interaction and recreational activities. Furthermore, 

Lower scores of depression and anxiety were predicted by the strength of the overall social network (…)

Naumann, Sandra, Lena Matyjek, Katharina Bögl, Scholar Minds, and Isabel Dziobek. Update on the Mental Health Crisis in Academia: Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Early Career Researchers’ Mental Health and Satisfaction with PhD training, 2022. 

In another survey, this one about Philippine BTS fans, social interaction and recreational activities were  both listed as ways that fandom supported participants’ mental health.

Despite being isolated from one another geographically due to the lockdown, the fans felt that BTS was with them throughout the pandemic, through their music, live videos, tweets, pictures, and even the mere thought of them.

Vanguardia, Marc. “Love Yourself, BTS Army: Participatory Fandom and Agency during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Philippines Communication Society Review, 2021, 229.

These digital  networks of intimacy allowed for comfort, happiness, and healing to be conveyed and received across miles in the physical realm and created imagined yet profound connections that acted as safe spaces for ARMYs online.

Vanguardia, Marc. “Love Yourself, BTS Army: Participatory Fandom and Agency during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Philippines Communication Society Review, 2021, 231.

By seeing other ARMYs and interacting with them on various social networking sites, the (survey) participants felt less lonely as a part of a community of people who shared not only the same interest and admiration for BTS but also similar experiences regardless of their cultural, linguistic, gender, and other identifying background. (Participants) pointed out that relationships were formed not only as fans of the same idols but as individuals who were included in each other’s support systems.

Vanguardia, Marc. “Love Yourself, BTS Army: Participatory Fandom and Agency during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Philippines Communication Society Review, 2021, 241-242

The individual activities and actions that the participants engaged in as fans of BTS served as a distraction from the bleak reality of the pandemic. By being occupied with tasks such as streaming, voting, and getting updated on the fandom over stan Twitter, the fans were able to focus on accomplishing things instead of dwelling on their problems and concerning themselves with the situation of the world around them. By being able to control something they found an anchor that was constant, and had a sense of agency in a time of almost complete uncertainty. (…) The participants exhibited a high level of consciousness of the positive effects and potential drawbacks of their engagement in the fandom. They recognized the various ways that their actions could affect their well-being, and adjusted accordingly by putting themselves in conducive situations that would provide them the greatest benefit.

Vanguardia, Marc. “Love Yourself, BTS Army: Participatory Fandom and Agency during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Philippines Communication Society Review, 2021, 239-240.

Fandom might be seen then, as a culture that adapted well to the pandemic. It would be tempting to characterise academia as also not needing to change drastically in a world in lockdown.

Drawing a parallel between these two is not a new statement.

In some cases, we argue that academic research interests paralleled fannish passion.

Hayashi, Aya Esther. 2020. “Reimagining Fan Studies in the Age of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.2029.

However, both fandom and academia have their  issues, which were  not only carried over into  the pandemic but might have been amplified by it . As McMillan Cottom explained  in a roundtable about the state of higher education,

Overall, most college leaders saw COVID-19 as an opportunity to do more of what they had already been doing. Schools that had wanted to respond to inequality doubled down on that. School that had been trending toward profit-seeking especially under the guise of a public institution-like Purdue and Arizona State -doubled down.

Shenk, Timothy, Maggie Doherty, Nils Gilman, Adam Harris, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Christopher Newfield. Academi After the Pandemic: A roundtable on how COVID-19 has changed American universities. Other. Dissent, 2021. 

(…) participatory culture of affiliation in the BTS ARMY fandom can be ambiguous at best in its effect on fan mental health.

Vanguardia, Marc. “Love Yourself, BTS Army: Participatory Fandom and Agency during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Philippines Communication Society Review, 2021, 244.

Notwithstanding the positive impacts of involvement in BTS ARMY? The participants generally agreed that some other ARMYs can be very “toxic”, or overly competitive, intense, or aggressive in their way of supporting BTS and engaging in “fan wars” with fans of other groups. To address this problem, some fans distanced themselves from stan Twitter altogether, avoided “toxic” fans by curating the accounts they were following or accounts following them, or decided to temporarily leave or stayed only to focus on ARMY common goals true to the ideals of BTS: The process if compartmentalization of personal and fandom life and interactions between online ARMY friends and personal/in-real-life friends that some participants reported as coping mechanisms for their mental health were a steady reality in network society where inclusions and exclusions always came together.

Vanguardia, Marc. “Love Yourself, BTS Army: Participatory Fandom and Agency during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Philippines Communication Society Review, 2021, 243.

(…) participatory culture of affiliation in the BTS ARMY fandom can be ambiguous at best in its effect on fan mental health.

Vanguardia, Marc. “Love Yourself, BTS Army: Participatory Fandom and Agency during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Philippines Communication Society Review, 2021, 244.

In a world so changed by the pandemic, looking forward, we cannot accept neither the idea that we can go back to normal, nor the idea that we have moved toward a digital utopia. Harris says,

During the protests and reckoning over systemic racism in American life over the past year, students have been a major part of the national energy. But they haven’t had the chance to be on campus, to be in spaces where they can organize. A lot of college leaders, particularly at predominantly white institutions, are very concerned about what is going to happen when students come back. I think a lot of energy that has been pent up over the last sixteen, seventeen months will reveal itself on campuses.

Shenk, Timothy, Maggie Doherty, Nils Gilman, Adam Harris, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Christopher Newfield. Academi After the Pandemic: A roundtable on how COVID-19 has changed American universities. Other. Dissent, 2021. 

We have to reflect on how to adapt to this world, possibly, how to use our current opportunities to change. 

What practices can we introduce at conferences that don’t tokenize BIPOC scholars? (…) Let’s diversify editorial boards and conference planning committees. (…) Let’s create alternative funding for conferences and journals, to transform these practices from unremunerated service activities to activities where labor is honored.

Hayashi, Aya Esther. 2020. “Reimagining Fan Studies in the Age of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.2029.

The Classics of Fan Studies: Lisa A. Lewis – The Adoring Audience

Perhaps only a fan can appreciate the depth of feeling, the gratifications, the importance for coping with everyday life that fandom represents. Yet we are all fans of something. We respect, admire, desire. We distinguish and form commitments. By endeavoring to understand the fan impulse, we ultimately move towards a greater understanding of ourselves.

Lisa A. Lewis, The adoring Audience

Continuing our series on the classics of fan studies, today we’re having a look at The Adoring Audience which was edited by Lisa A. Lewis in 1992. As we’ve seen before, 1992 was a very important year for the emergence of fan studies with the publication of Textual Poachers and Enterprising Women. Just like these two books, The Adoring Audience helped pave the way for the growth of fan studies as an academic discipline. 

Lewis’ work is a collection of contributions from various scholars written with the goal of breaking away from the stereotypes that surrounded fans and fandom at the time and painting a more accurate portrayal of fan culture.

Personally, I really enjoy John Fiske’s chapter about the cultural economy of fandom which demonstrates that fans are producers as well as consumers and that the texts they produce “are often crafted with production values as high as any in the official culture”. 

Though the research in The Adoring Audience can feel a bit dated at times, it is still worth a look in order to understand the workings of fandom before the internet took over and drastically impacted fan culture as a whole.