fandom's replication of oppressive social paradigms
although fandom has the power and often does function as a transgressive, resistance space for queers of all kinds, as fandom can never be separated completely from the complex power dynamics of RL it often ends up perpetuating oppressive social paradigms under the pretense of progressiveness. one example that immediately comes to mind is slash fiction that remains deeply invested in heteronormative gender roles. for example, within the kingdom hearts fandom, the character sora is often paired with riku. in the actual video game, sora is younger than riku (by a small margin) and has a more curved boyish figure in comparison to riku’s buff body. extrapolating gender performance from gender presentation, fans often write RikuSora fics and not SoraRiku fics—that is, Riku as top and Sora as bottom and never the other way around). sora is often depicted as sexually immature and naive as well as a crying, emotional mess. riku on the other hand displays normative “cool guy” gender performativity evident in his stoic or aloof allure. riku tends to hold power and dominance in the relationship over sora. this becomes problematic when we begin to read sora as a female or feminine character and riku as the masculine character. also, it is a rare occurrence that characters of similar gender performances whether masculine or feminine are paired together. thus preserving heteronormative conceptions of relationships even within supposed queer spaces.
additionally, slash fics tend to prioritize MxM slash pairings over FxF pairings. this prioritizes male queerness over female queerness. when combining this reality with observed (not methodically collected) gender self-identification of authors and readers in RL, we can see how fandom is mostly frequented (in my observation) by female writers and readers who write and read about male homosexualness. personally, i relate this dynamic with the power dynamics within the male gaze towards female queer sexualities and how the disorienting power of female queerness is always reconfigured and reabsorbed as a part of patriarchal heteronormativity—only the opposite. females watching and writing about male queers for their own heterosexual pleasure.
crackfic as parodic play and a move towards reparative writing practices
although the definition of crackfic varies depending upon the individual or website defining the term ranging from things like hysterically funny! to WTF so bad this person must have been on CRACK when they were writing this!, crackfic queers the way readers understand what is “proper” or “appropriate” or “legitimate” writing. in my experience with fandom, crackfic, parodies, and ridiculous fics are marginalized as genres within fandom. at least a few years ago when i was more committed to remaining up-to-date with the fanfiction community, the most popular genre of fiction seemed to be serious ones. there was a definite trend of angst and emoness at the time, though i’m not sure if this is still the case. nonetheless, crackfics have not always been appreciated for their literary merit and as such haven’t always been highly reviewed and commented upon.
yet, here i’d like to figure the reading and writing of crackfics (regardless of the precise definition) as a move towards a queer reading and writing practice. instead of striving for literary excellence, crackfic exists for the sole purpose of having fun—both while reading and while writing—without the stress of satisfying someone else. crackfic readers and writers read and write with spontaneous openness to surprise and the ridiculous.
Here are some examples of crackfic:
Benevolent Sibling (Battlestar Galactica re-told in the eyes of the Cylons; emulates a certain infamous reality TV show)
Some of the most inventive work in fandom happens as pastiche; these works are categorized under the term crossover, and involves elements taken from different materials and remixed into novel creations. Other fanworks combine canon with different imagined realities, resulting in AU, or alternative universe, narratives. AU works can be utopic or dystopic in nature, often providing implicit commentary on the failures of the source material. Finally, mixed media or genre reworkings offer more opportunities for fans to apply different aesthetic frameworks in addition to different narrative outcomes.
Fanwork is, in and of itself, trangressive and subversive in that they retell stories on new terms. When mixtures such as crossover, AU, and genre reworking occur, these trangressions operate on an even higher level.
The domain of fanfiction can be read as a huge society of its own. It has its own rules (if you use moderated websites to distribute and read your fics), its own inside jokes, even its own lingo. Above is an extensive list of the abbreviations and vocabulary used by members of the ffic community.
to anon or to de-anon? user identities and inter-fan relationships
Relationships among fans are not limited to incidental, short-lived encounters. In fact, these relationships often extend over many years, despite their lack of knowledge about specifics about their “real” identity. Markers of identity often shift in fandom communities through performative practices such as use of language, widely held beliefs/opinions about a work, and do not depend on things that the state deems necessary for identification: citizenship status, marital status, birthdate, social security number, income, education, etc.
As described by Samuel Delany and others in their work on stranger intimacy, public spaces such as forums and comments are collectively maintained, both by official mods (moderators) and by users. Policing and discipline often occurs on this public level, and keeps conversations in public discourse (people take screenshots of arguments waged through comments).
Contact occurs in anon memes in which individuals can anonymously (or not) request certain types of fanworks, usually with some kind of prompt; these forums are often concentrators of works containing kink, smut, genre and genderbending, AU (alternative universe), PWP, etc. Anon memes for Merlin, Young Justice, and Star Trek have produced extremely popular works that have spread throughout fandom without needing to unveil the identity of their creators (although some authors choose to reveal their identities, or de-anon, after their works have gained popularity).
We speculate that fandom is able to place less stress on the identity of authors and producers of fanworks because most of the focus is on the work, and the explorations and possibilities within them. There is less pressure for artists for generate a cult of personality and limited opportunities for celebrity. Thus, the value and acclaim given to fanworks usually reflect their inherent worth. This is not to say, of course, that fans never accumulate enough fame on their own to influence their readership. Archiving tools such as delicious.com allow fans to keep track of how many other fans bookmark certain works, which magnifies their effect. And several authors have published their original work through mainstream booksellers after having gained a substantial following in fandom, such as Sarah Rees Brennan, who started off writing enormously popular fanfic starring Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy.
While most fanworks refrain from performing explicitly political work, many do take an active role in provoking conversations and questions about the inclusivity of the source material. Rather than becoming abject to the marginalization and problematic elements of media produced in a flawed society or rejecting it altogether, fans can engage in disidentificatory strategies that incorporate canon in unexpected, playful, and empowering ways.
Fandom is inherently queered through its marginal existence: it is frequently accompanied by questions of legality, and refuses to operate within capitalist economies. No monetary profit is being made, and fic exchanges and “gifts” operate as different economic systems.
As if compelled by the death and pleasure drives, fanworks focus on what lies beyond canon; fandom is characterized by a refusal of deaths and terminations, both of characters and of existing media. Often, works will attempt to continue narratives that have ended, re-imagine their endings, and bring back to life characters and relationships that were terminated in the source material — and find pleasure in doing so. It is expansive, exploding borders of reality and edging readers to new forms of understanding canon:
Reactions to the existence and proliferation of fandom range from disgust to disapproval to outright laughter. Many critiques focus on the questionable legality of fanworks, suggesting that they are plagiarisms. Some authors have explicitly forbidden or strongly discouraged their fans from writing fic (especially those of a pornographic nature), such as Anne McCaffrey and George R. R. Martin (although others such as J. K. Rowling have given it their blessing).
Furthermore, writers of fanfic are frequently portrayed as teenaged girls obsessed with romance, drawing heavily on the stereotype that young women (and interest in romance) are are immature and shallow. Such a perception, while damaging on its own, renders invisible older individuals and people — including teenaged girls — who turn to fanfic as an intellectual and artistic exercise.
Fandom is the queerest reading practice! It is a site of cultural production and cultural criticism, and is an active attempt at transforming, repairing, and challenging societal norms that are perpetuated through canon.
Drawing from Judith Butler’s conceptualization of “theory,” fandom is by definition theoretical in that it envisions — and puts in practice — a newer, better, more ideal world as imagined by fans. Such utopic visions, which often collide and compete in addition to collude, include fanfiction (fanfic) that gives voice and flesh to minor characters: one for sorrow
Racefail ‘09 is an excellent case study for examining the intersection of activism, academia, and fandom. Discussions and arguments about cultural appropriation in fiction and their fanworks spurred larger critiques about POC (mis)representation in fandom as a whole. These conversations generated a huge quantity of blog posts addressing racism, classism, ableism, sexism, and privilege on a basic, 101-type level; more posts dealt with the politics of internet animosity, rhetoric, and “tone” arguments.
For us, fandom was the first place in which we encountered queer individuals, characters, and themes; this was where we cut our teeth and bruised ourselves learning about privilege, racism, sexism, and homophobia, all through the lens of fictional worlds we loved to inhabit. In part due to the distance from our personal, “real” lives to these fictional universes, we were able to digest challenging notions with more ease.
Fandom, in the simplest of definitions, is a community of fans. It encompasses subcultures upon subcultures of individuals interested in continuing conversations about all productions of media — video games, TV shows, books, bands — beyond the source material.
This can happen in a variety of ways through many different platforms. There are many degrees of involvement. Some fandom participants merely seek out assurance that other individuals share the same passions, choosing to lurk in on discussions or consume fanworks that others have created. Some join in on those discussions, both anonymously and as an identified user, often through comments sections on websites. And some produce fanworks.
Fanworks is a broad term that refers to visual artwork, literary creations, photo, video, and sound editing, and other media that fandom participants produce in response to canon. Although the level of deviation from canon can vary, these works must contain elements that are recognizable as being derived from canon.
Fandom (as we know it) is predominantly confined to the internet, with spaces such as livejournal.com, fanfiction.net, tumblr.com, and archiveofourown.net having the largest communities, along with private websites hosted by individual authors/artists/fans. The fanworks we will provide in the rest of this website will feature products from all of these media. However, fandom has inhabited more tangible spaces such as fan conventions, zines, and mailing lists throughout its existence.
We hope you enjoy your visit! We aim to portray a diverse set of experiences relating fandom to topics in queer theory. Please click through other posts in no particular order (we feel that fandom is an assemblage of ideas, people, and products rather than one with a single narrative).