Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fandom Identification

I promised that I would do a post on fandom identification due to the nature of my survey and a lot of thoughts I've been having about it. After looking over this blog and seeing what I discuss and what I don't, it's sort of a complicated matter. Why do I consider myself part of some fandoms and not others? Why do I feel comfortable interacting in some but not others? Why is it some days I definitely consider myself a member but at other times the stars just aren't in alignment?
This is complicated, of course. But I need to back it up to the idea of being a fangirl/boy/squee - just a fan in general - before answering my own questions. There's a sort of science and magic involved in becoming a fan. For instance, I really like watching soccer, hockey, and baseball, but I hardly consider myself a fan of them. I like the show Parks and Recreation but I'm don't not a fan. However, I am definitely a Sherlock fan, no questions asked. I love the characters, I love the plots, I love the dialogue, I love the actors. I love the show and feel compelled to engage with it - and so I label myself as a fan. There's a level of self-acceptance, of conscious recognition in becoming a fan/fangirl/et al. that I think allows for different levels of appreciation and interaction with texts. I had the opportunity last semester to tell someone what a fangirl was when discussing my senior project because she'd never heard the term before. Not everyone is familiar with this form of identification and it's interesting to consider those who label themselves fans vs. just casually liking something vs. not caring vs. those who are in some fandoms but not others. It gets even more complicated if you want to throw haters into the mix. But when one does accept being a fan, there's a multitude of different ways this plays out.
Culture (and often Tumblr, albeit in jest) likes to assume that fangirls cry all the time and scream at the very mention of their favorite celebrities (hyperbole but rooted in some bit of truth), that fanboys are nerdy awkward virgins (again, hyperbole), that fans are escapists who have no grasp on reality (because we apparently all live in the Matrix). Like most stereotypes, there are tiny bits of truth within these perceptions, but to say that all fans are like this, everywhere at all times, is an outright lie. Culture tends to get a bit carried away by these assumptions (see the gif above for a visual representation of such effects). Being a fan is a complicated matter and, in my experiences, not at all consistent over time or in all venues. I openly fangirl about Sherlock and The Avengers, am secretly a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, finally accepted my deep love for Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare, and am a fan of Misters Cumberbatch and Hiddleston but feel detached from the fandoms. With your indulgence, I'd like to talk through these aspects of my fanning personality and try to answer the series of questions I lambasted you with at the beginning.

Let's start with the Sherlock fandom, because that's one I've been seeing a lot of dislike for this fandom online this month. It more or less started with this post coming across my dash:

Having had mostly positive experiences with the Sherlock fandom, I was interested by this. Sure, the fandom can be kind of strange at times, with their perchance for photoshopping things, creating bizarre gifs, and just the general take-over of text posts, but I can't say I'd really felt ashamed of the fandom overall.

Then, coinciding the news that the U.K. was working to legalize gay marriage, a whole flood of posts about Johnlock shipping appeared. Some fans, perhaps jesting, perhaps being serious, started talking about how when gay marriage was legalized, Johnlock could be canon. This led to a huge rise out of people, stating that the Sherlock fandom was making light of a serious issue and just using it to their fandom's advantage. And that's when I started seeing a lot more posts like this:

Keep in mind that I am a Johnlock shipper (I like both the platonic and romantic way of shipping it) but... this does make me ashamed. How does just wanting Sherlock and John to be friends make you make you a cis straight homophobic jerk? Why does not agreeing with someone's ship suddenly make you a terrible person who deserves to have their character attacked? Besides, people who don't support GLBT rights at all have plenty of interest in getting turned on by homosexual activity (I'm thinking of people who like watching women make out but utterly cannot fathom the idea of lesbian relationships). And I went to high school with a girl who loved reading Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy fanfics but who, based on her political views, probably didn't support gay marriage. Just because you find a ship enticing or interesting doesn't mean you support that sort of relationship generally. And just because you don't support a ship doesn't mean you condemn that relationship generally.

For a fandom that can be so infinitely clever and ingenious, it confuses me the way Sherlockians sometimes respond. I'm fine just reading fics and having a separate area for those stories to take place away from the show. But I can also understand the deep need to have these ships exist in the storyline, especially with main characters like Sherlock and John. However, the idea that not supporting these ships makes you a bigot or an asshole really has me lost. And it's really alienating as a fan to have this occur. I admit, I'm less on the shipping side of things; I'm not a super active participant in fandom culture other than this strange sort of meta-blogging thing and the limited fanfiction writing I do. I like to talk about the shows but I guess I'm more interested in the cultural impact than in the creating aspects of it. I won't be fighting any ship wars; I'll be the one watching from the sidelines as people go down with their ships. (That sounds incredibly creepy when worded like that...)
Doesn't help that I'm a pretty casual shipper and the ships I do like are, for the most part, not going to happen in canon. Poor Lestrade and Mycroft have never even been in a scene together in the show. Sigyn (Loki's wife in myth and the Marvel universe) is a character in the Thor comics but will never be in films unless we get really, really, really impossibly lucky. But the chances of giving the bad guy a girlfriend (and making her epic and not a total abused and used subject) are pretty much nonexistent. On the upside I pretty much ship Loki with everyone (he's a little like an evil Jack Harkness (a Doctor Who character known for his pansexuality, for those unfamiliar with him) in that respect), but still.. romantic subplot with the villain; does that ever actually happen in films? (It totally should... but whatever). Also, on the topic of Jack Harkness, I have utter fondness for Jack Harkness/Ianto Jones, a beautiful canon ship that was blown to smithereens by the third season of the TV show Torchwood. So maybe I've just decided against making shipping my primary focus partly out of these reasons. Which perhaps puts me at a distance in Tumblr fandoms considering this opinion on shipping, where your ships are as important as your name:

Despite all this shipping stuff and strangeness abounding in the fandom, I still consider myself a fan of Sherlock. Why? Because I enjoy it. It's that simple. Yes, there are going to be people who do things that I don't like; such is life. I learned to live and let live. It's all about personal identification. Some people will stick with it despite the parts they don't like; others will drop out and just appreciate the show without considering themselves a member of the fandom. It's all good.
However, then there are some fandoms I only partially identify with or don't identify with at all, but not because I don't want to identify with the fandom. For instance, I really love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I rarely add this to the list of things I'm a fangirl of. I've wondered about this and come to this conclusion: I feel like I haven't seen enough episodes of the show to feel comfortable with that label. Several times when I've brought the show up, people start discussing the later seasons, which I haven't yet seen. Also, I've been met with certain distaste for saying I like the show, which makes me less likely to admit to liking it at later times. The Lord of the Rings, though, I openly love. However, I stopped talking about it for a while and forced myself not to show my appreciation of it because someone I knew always went out of their way to show how much more they knew about the books and the movies than I did, as if they were trying to prove themselves the bigger fan. In this way, I felt less comfortable talking about and interacting with texts and acknowledge that I liked them. I've felt much the same way about Shakespeare until recently; I love his plays but I felt I didn't know enough about his work or wasn't smart enough to be able to talk about them and actually be accepted as fan. Some of this goes back to the elements shown in "fake geek girl" ideas, that you have to prove yourself to belong, that there are certain things you have to do in order to be a fan. I really don't care for this. Yeah, it makes it easier if you know a lot about the stuff you like in order to have a better understanding of it. But you can consider yourself a fan and not have seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You don't have to ship Johnlock or have read any of the Thor comics. Sometimes, fandoms get a little elitist, and it makes me sad. Generally speaking, fandoms are cast off as not being "respectable enough" for mainstream society to take us seriously. We like mass cultural texts and aren't afraid to geek out about them, instead of "respectably" showing our interest over "art" in a restrained matter. We're all about feels and emotions, and society hasn't quite figured out what to make of that yet. So, while cultural elites might mock us for our behavior, it really doesn't behoove fandoms to bring that same elitist attitude into who can and cannot identify as a fan. Fandoms don't get to decide who's in and who's out; the people who chose to join them do.

(Okay, hold on, tangent time: this was the first image to come up when I Google searched "fandom elitism" -

I... I... I got nothin'. If you can explain what photoshopping Tom Hiddleston's face on the Gene Wilder meme from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is expressing, I would be really grateful. The whole "You must be new" meme I'm familiar with but I'm unable to process this. Partly because I'm utterly at a loss to what it's trying to state and also because I recently realized that Gene Wilder and Tom Hiddleston look vaguely similar and I can't get past this (I was a major Gene Wilder fangirl as a kid, by the way... what the hell, I'm still a major Gene Wilder fangirl) and this photo just makes me kind of uncomfortable and I don't know why... Anyway, these are the fun happenings of Google image searching and getting strange results.)
It's the choosing part in fandoms that doesn't always come easy to me. I'm slowly acknowledging I'm a fan in other realms now, but it's a lengthy process. And every time someone doubts my authenticity, it sends me spiraling back into doubt. But what I struggle with are not so much fandoms associated around texts, but around people. Being a Cumberfan is far different than being a Sherlockian. I have no problem geeking about a text or characters, but when it comes to people, I find myself suddenly bashful and ashamed, not of others, but of myself. You could say it has something to do with sucking at fessing up about my feelings towards people for many years - seriously, when I admitted to thinking Ewan McGregor was attractive in my freshman year of college, it was a big damn deal for me. I never used to announce those sorts of thoughts to the world. No idea why. Clearly times have changed, but there's still a sense of derision on my part for feeling what I do. I sent Benedict Cumberbatch a fan letter last spring and the embarrassment I felt for months after (okay, I'm still embarrassed) was obscene and unnecessary. My mother can attest to the fact that when I decided to tweet Tom Hiddleston on his birthday this year, I argued with myself for at least five minutes about whether or not it was a terrible idea. And then after I sent the tweet felt like the biggest idiot in the world for much of the day. I'm pretty certain this is unusual in fangirl behavior and, while I'm probably not alone in these feelings, I'm also not in the majority. I have a hard time enjoyably fangirling over people and, while there's plenty of different reasons I've probably discussed before on here, there are two reasons that stand out the most in my mind for why I can't comfortably call myself a Hiddlestoner or a Cumberfan. One of these is that I am still stuck into a certain kind of stigma, one that fears being lumped in with "hoards of screaming fans" that people might assume dominate fandoms when coming across posts such as this:

(Okay, I get the song "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua" from the musical Kiss Me, Kate when I see this and I can't explain why.) Anyway, currently overlooking the strange mix of Jane Austen "single man in want of a wife" meets Panam dystopian politics, I hate the fact that I can't easily find humor in this but instead take the post seriously and get stuck in a judgmental, stereotyping position I'd like to think I've left behind me. But the stigma is hard to shake off. Perhaps because of the second reason I have trouble identifying with these sort of fandoms - in these groups, there's a chance of being seen acknowledged, recognized, and it terrifies me. In fandoms surrounding texts, for example, there is no risk of being found out by the characters because... well, they're fictional. Yes, the creators could know but meeting an author or creator of a text you fan over is different, I think, from meeting a creator or an actor that you fan over. But we've been here before, in my discussion of wanting to meet celebrities but totally being terrified to do so. Same basic territory, same rules seem to apply.

This issue with fandom and identity can get pretty complicated, especially for someone like me who likes lots of random things and is engaged in overcritical self-analysis a lot more than she probably should be. Again, these are only my experiences. But it's all about choice and labeling yourself, whether you choose to identify with a fandom or not, and it comes down to your own perception, though it can certainly be influenced by people. It can be messy or it can be neat and finite. It depends on the person and it can certainly change, all time. Just remember: I once shipped Bella and Edward.

I've realized that I really need to do a post about shipping as that rather took over this whole post and I just saw a whole connection with Jane Austen's Emma to it... yeah, more on that at a later date. For now, I shall leave you with a splendid rendering of the closest thing I have to an OTP.

Yeah, I just really like Sigyn and Loki... Pretty much my feels can be summed up in this image from Finding Nemo:
(I don't know what you're talking about; I run a very serious blog here....)


  1. I found this post because of the Loki!Wilder in the hope it could tell ME what it means, but I see you're lost on it too. But I read the whole damn thing. And I have to say, I'm the exact same way. I distance myself from ships when they become too crazy, I distance myself from fandoms for the same way. I was huge into HP fandom in the olden days (ie when the books were still coming out) where I quickly learned if you weren't staunchly Remus/Sirius, you can GTFO. I was more of a Remus/Tonks before canon sealed the deal, but I really preferred Snape/Hermione, which almost no one talked about, as if it were a secret shame. Which of course it was, because *everyone* knows Hermione's in love with Harry. (Hermione/Draco mildly accepted). I stuck to meta in order to avoid any flame wars. I had similar problems in the Pirates of the Caribbean fandom, where anyone not all sweaty over Jack/Liz or Will/Liz (or if you find the right comm, Jack/Will) was deeply misguided and a fool. I was master and commander of Barbossa/Elizabeth, a relationship I found immensely intriguing and fun. I had to start my own LJ comm to escape the flames, and found like-minded people there. (Without being too egotistical, I invented Barbossabeth). But I have eventually left all that, because it became too elitist, embarrassing and weird. I spent all of 2 weeks in the Top Gear fandom because I couldn't cope with the idea that James would find it one day and conclude me (his future wife) to be some kind of nutjob. I wasn't- and I still feel shame and fear over the love letter I sent him 2 years ago. But I didn't want to be associated with overly-attached fangirls who would run out and buy 10 jumpers with blue stripes on because James wore one in the last episode. Especially because I'm 39. Now I can barely stand to read his column, lest someone jump out from my closet and scream 'YOU CREEPY STALKER'. I genuinely love him, there's nothing to do but hide from it.

    And now I've told a complete stranger all this- for the single and only reason to confess, you're not alone. Fandom is a bitch. Oh and I wanted to say The Venture Bros. villain Dr.Girlfriend/Mrs.The Monarch is a villain's girl with just as much power, and Batman/Catwoman has to be the ultimate villain/hero love tangle.

    1. Thank you so much for reading (and sorry I was no help explaining the Loki!Wilder pic)! It's so easy for me to get kind of overwhelmed by fandom and end up in a pile of confusion and feels. So I really appreciate your candidness - it's nice to know I'm not alone. After reading about Dr. Girlfriend I now must watch the Venture Bros. And Batman/Catwoman for sure!

    2. Venture Bros is insanely good, but it is hard getting through the first handful of episodes, they don't find their feet for some time. The pilot episode is wildly different; characters change, plots are stupid etc- the usual stuff. I hated it when I first saw it but stuck through for the sake of my housemate. Glad I did!