Can Fandom Change Society? | Off Book | PBS

Uploaded by PBSoffbook on 06.09.2012

Fandom, at the very basic level, is one of the dominant modes of engagement online. Fandom is something that has become really
pervasive. Whatever your interest is you can probably find a community of
people into that same thing.
We're in a culture that "I read you, you read me." We're all in it together. It's a smaller
community, much more personalized. If you want to be in fandom, fandom wants you.
Fandom is saying that I really like a much more active participation with my culture.
That I don't just see a movie and walk away from it but I wanna discuss it afterwards. I want to
write stories it. I want to draw fan art. What we had is a kind of aberrational
hundred years of mass media culture where the idea of how to enjoy stories
has become really passive and that fan culture and the internet is a return to
the kind of previous culture that you saw going through to the end of the nineteenth
century where people retold stories to each other because there was no mass
Fans are drawn to texts and universes that are really complex.
Creative worlds where you get a sense that what you saw was only the merest
sliver of what was possible. And so one of the things that fans do is like to explore
the cultural levels of a universe, adding different kinds of characters, more
representative characters: by giving bigger roles to women, by creating
different kinds of roles for queer people and racial minorities, for portraying
disabled people. So all of these have been really important loci for people
to come together and to tell stories that express political values, social
values, cultural values that are very different from what the mass-market
can offer and so to self identify as a fan is to say that you're interested in engaging
culture in this really broad and rich way.
Bronies are males fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Generally between
the ages of sixteen to twenty-five. And they
fiercely love the show. For a man in today's society to tell someone you're a
fan of My Little Pony a lot of the times they might cock their head a little bit and be like well what's wrong
with you. One of the most appealing things is how much it directly challenges our
expectations of what it means to be a man. The bronies that I've encountered in real
life have mostly been completely earnest,
more than ready and willing to talk about their favorite episode, their
favorite pony.
They want to bro-hoof and they want to welcome you to the herd. Men traditionally
have certain
societal expectations and really that comes down to a larger problem with
homophobia. Andrew W.K's on your side, you're still masculine. I mean who doesn't want to imagine a
world with magic and happiness
and awesome flying ponies.
We've got this very heavily gender segregated world we're living in in America
and I think a lot of women are drawn to Transformers because we can step outside
I write almost entirely in the Transformers fandom. Our canon has one gender, there is one
female character. That makes everybody who's not female some sort of gendered-
other and I like exploring the idea of what does it mean if you are free of
those dynamics that we see so often, like heteronormative. This is sort of a chance to
push back against that. You can play around with that idea of who is the
receptive one is that really feminized in any way or is the one who's
using the male analog part, is that the male, is that the sort of top emotionally
in the relationship?
To use the idea of domination and control and sort of reinscribe those tropes. It really
allows for that kind of thing when we're taking, in a sense, gender norms that
we are living with. In fandom, we're a community. We're no longer inscribed in
that men do this and women do this. It's everybody is, in a sense, gender equal.
Holmies arose out of the Aurora shooting tragedy.
After it happened, on tumblr, a group of people in their fan-ish
engagement started to post strange photoshop stuff that seemed to
be in support of James Holmes, who was the shooter.
Within a few hours of that, Buzzfeed
posted a listicle about look at all this stuff that the holmies are doing
and then suddenly it became a story.
Originally it was about six to ten people but the way that it was reported
it sounded like there were tens of thousands of people. The resulting
media attention meant that more people we're gonna be brought to that space. And the media
attention guaranteed
that the holmie phenomenon would turn into a trollish phenomenon.
One of the great facilitators of community is having an outside. You can
only define a community in terms of borders and so, with holmies, they were
playing into that trope in an extreme way where only a handful of people would get it.
I would argue
a lot of trollish behavior is actually a kind of fandom.
So where do we draw that line, how do we cordon off what's faniish and what's not? It's really
important to consider that spectrum because it's what people do online.
Most corporations want to do a kind of branding. They don't want anybody to
think about their product in a way that doesn't fit with their take on their
The fanfiction that they're objecting to the most is the fan fiction that is most protected
under law because it's the most transformative.
It's a specific part of copyright which basically says that even though
somebody has the right to control their intellectual property, the rest of us
have certain rights to respond to that,
whether it takes the original work and does something different, changes the
meaning of it, changes the form of it, as opposed to simply copying.
Most fanfic writers are not actually interested in going commercial. They want to share
their work for pleasure with other fans and that's the amazing thing that we
want to protect.
If you're a fan doing this just for love and you get a cease and
desist on Warner Brothers letterhead
saying you were going to be sued, every violations has a hundred fifty thousand
dollar fine.
You're like "oh my god, I have to take all my fan fiction off the internet. I have to
erase my website. I have to vanish completely." Except, of course, these stories
that entertainment corporations tell enter our consciousness. You know, you can't say don't have
Harry and Hermoine get together. You can't tell people not to have that thought.
That's why fan culture is important. To be able to nurture creativity and share
our stories and our art with other people. Why wouldn't we value that? Why
wouldn't we let people have this kind of expression?
Fan culture really depends both on
free speech and fair use. And free speech means sometimes taking speech that you
don't like.
It challenges people's expectations of
what they consider to be acceptable in society.
Here's this space with the rules are different, the world is very different from
the world I live in and there are set rules and
there are set characters and we
relate to each other on a different level. And it's something that someone can switch between;
different fandoms, different communities, different
platforms. It lets many more people have
a voice and it lets many people tell stories that
would otherwise not get heard.