Fractal of Loops

Fandom is Broken is Broken

So I’m going to start this with a brief reminder to anyone who might need it.   DON’T SEND DEATH THREATS. Its never warranted, its never helpful, its always gross. Don’t do it.

What does that have to do with the article Fandom is Broken? I’ll get back to that, just be patient.

So, having read a couple of critique of Fandom is Broken, the article itself, the follow-up article and the AV Club article it refers to my central critique is that it is a seething mass of false-equivalencies that is gratuitously cruel to underrepresented fans. The representation issues of the article have been addressed much better than I could hope to elsewhere. So I’m going to focus on the sheer incoherence of the article set to anyone who knows even the smallest smidgen about fandom.

  1. Fandom is a public park, not a gentleman’s club.

Fandom is a community, definitely. People come in and out, and talk to each other they form relationships, they love the things they love communally. That’s really the core of fandom. But fandom is not an organized community. There is no application to join, there is no board of directors controlling community activities or setting rules, and so there’s no way of controlling who comes in, or what they do when they get here.

And that brings me back to my first paragraph. That is everything I can possibly do to prevent people in fandom from making death threats. I have literally exhausted all avenues open to me on that. So its terrible when fans act like jerks, but to say that this is somehow the fault of other fans is flat out ridiculous. We aren’t like major media companies, we don’t have the option of vetoing gratuitously offensive content.

And to say that this is somehow an artefact of twitter is also ridiculous. This, incidentally is an area where the original AV Club article contradicts itself, first noting that fan misbehaviour has occurred for as long as there has been fans, and then turning around and casting it as some new, internet driven issue. Which is annoying.

  1. What does it mean to be a bad fan?

And while we’re on the topic of fans behaving badly none of these articles really presents a functioning operational definition for what ‘bad’ behaviour means, in the context of fandom. The reference a variety of fan behaviours, but present no real reason as to how they all constitute ‘bad behaviour’. Is complaining about media twists you don’t like bad? Is it only bad if the creator hears about it? What about asking for inclusion? Why is it bad? What sort of feedback do creators actually want and have they spent any time at all thinking about it?

Now obviously, sending threats or harassing media creators is bad behaviour. We don’t need to look into the nature of fandom to tell us that, because its just an unpleasant and unnecessary thing to do regardless.

But then they go on to provide a round of up of totally disparate behaviours, all apparently a sign that ‘the fans are out of control’. Lets move through them.

  1. Twitter Hashtags are not a form of coercion

The first article (the AV club article) complains at length about the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend tag and loudly declares this an attempt by fans to seize control of the media environment, or some such thing. Now, I would tend to think that actually attempting to seize control of Disney, if that was even possible, would actually be pretty rude. But to claim that a twitter hashtag is doing that is ridiculous. Twitter’s a form of social media, it’s a place for people to talk. And hashtags are a way of keeping people talking about the same thing in the same space. So #GiveElsaAGirlfriend is essentially, a conversation. Just that. Just people talking. People talking can’t force Disney to do anything, no matter what they might want to do, they don’t have the capacity. Fans can talk and they can choose what they spend money on, and then of course, they can transform what they consume. They actually can’t make creators do things. They literally can’t. Worrying about media control by out of control fans is like worrying about media control by alien mind rays.

Twitter is not really my thing, so I might be overstepping a bit with this next statement, but to say that the specificity of the hashtag somehow separates it meaningfully from more general lobbying for inclusive media doesn’t really hold much water with me. Hashtags work by punchiness, an attention grabbing twitter hashtag will get more attention. And focusing single concrete goal instead of a big general one (getting Elsa a girlfriend vs making movies in general generally more inclusive) is just doing effective activism, so I don’t totally buy that this really differs from a general request for a more diverse Disney lineup. But even if it does, we’re still just talking.

  1. Three flavours of fan critique

Of course, while all fans are, ultimately, not that powerful, not all forms of fan criticism are the same, another point which the writers of these articles seem to profoundly miss. Starting again with the original AV Club article, conflating the complaints about changing the Ghost Buster’s lineup and the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend tag is ridiculous they’re too structurally different. One is regressive, the other progressive.

I don’t mean this in the sense of social justice. That is of course, deeply relevant, but, again, its been covered so well elsewhere my reiterating it wouldn’t add much. Ultimately what people who object to the female Ghost Busters want is to leave something they like the way it is. They are saying (regardless of why they are saying it) ‘I don’t want a new thing, this old one is just fine’. This is very similar to the arguments about the casting of Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child which boil down to ‘why do we need to have a black Hermione if I like white Hermione’. I’ve actually written a blog post about me having this experience in Halo fandom it can feel very important, but its meaningless. No matter who they cast going forward doesn’t alter what’s happened before, Emma Watson’s Hermione will still exist when Noma Dumezweni’s hits the stage. We can have every Hermione we like. All Hermione’s are good.

The Elsa hashtag does fundamentally the opposite thing, its looking forward to something that doesn’t exist yet, and saying ‘lets make it better’. We’re still basically debating how Elsa’s story should continue, because it doesn’t exist yet. Its still all headcanons and speculation. And if Elsa gets a girlfriend because of a fan campaign then that’s just as canon as if she gets a boyfriend in spite of one.

And this of course, brings us to Hydra!Cap, a third class of criticism entirely. The articles try to make out that saying ‘please don’t make Cap a member of Hydra’ is essentially the same as ‘please leave cap the way he is and don’t change him’. But that isn’t it at all. They are saying something else entirely. They are saying “THIS IS GROSS”. Not ‘I liked the old one better’, not ‘lets try something a little different next time but ‘this thing, independent of how it was in the past, and how it will be in the future is bad.’

So when you mush these things all together, and try to treat them all the same as ‘fan whining’ or even as ‘fan criticism’ all you’re doing in generating incoherent babble.

  1. Not all media are created equal

In addition to not seeming to understand the mechanics of how these criticisms work, Mr Faraci’s article shows an odd lack of understanding of how media works. Given that he is, in fact, a professional media critic, I am a touch perturbed. Not all media is criticised the same way, because its not all the same. I’ve been avoiding talking too much about the Hydra!Cap thing, since I’m neither a comics fan nor Jewish. But before I return to shut up and listen-ville on the topic, Mr Faraci hastily dismisses the history of Captain America as relevant to fan’s anger about Hydra!Cap. Why would it matter, he asks, that he was written by two Jewish writers, and introduced punching out Hitler?

I am baffled by this. I genuinely fail to understand how you could not see that connection. Not all media has the same impact. Some stories never gain much traction.   Some are popular briefly, then fade. Some are crucially important to just a few people, but are pretty much ignored by everyone else. But some media is deeply embedded in our cultural landscape. Captain America is, Batman, Superman, and a lot of the other major superheroes are like this. Star Wars is like this, Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes and the Disney Princesses are all like this. Everyone knows who these characters are, even if only in passing, even if they don’t care. Their impact is more or less inescapable.

Having a queer Disney princess is important and can’t be substituted with some other character, because Disney princesses are a major way our culture defines heroic femininity to little girls, so little girls need to be able to see a princess who is like them.

Yes, it makes a difference whether the character you’ve suddenly decided has always been a fascist sleeper agent was conceived as a tool to fight anti-semitism.

So, when you’re given custody of a character who is inextricably tied to our culture, then yes, you should probably expect to be held to a higher standard than when you’re just writing some story with a brand new character you made up yourself. If Nick Spencer had instead written a comic about his own brand new superhero Major Antarctica who, in a shocking twist, turned out to have been a fascist villain all along we would not be having anywhere near this level of discussion.

Because for the most part the pressure placed on creators of Captain America, or Princess Elsa, or any other culturally valuable character, doesn’t come from fans opposed to creator control, it is a result of writers not having that control in the first place. It comes from the fact that you are working with a character and a canon that has been the combined effort of many creators. You don’t have full creative control because you’re in someone else’s sandbox.  Ironic that.

Okay, so maybe its not that shocking that someone who doesn’t understand fandom doesn’t understand that.

  1. Leaving room for fandom weirdness

Other than the legal issues, one of the most key differences between a work of fanfiction, and a work of original fiction is that most fanfiction isn’t really meant to be totally stand-alone. Fanfics, even AUs which don’t refer much to their original canons, exist in conversation with their original works.

The Death of the Author model doesn’t work especially well for analyzing fanworks. When a fan writer says “I want Steve Rogers to be happy” and writes a story where he is, treating that as a standalone piece of Captain America literature is a waste of everyone’s time. You can’t separate it from the trauma-heavy events of the MCU and/or Marvel Comics, or the authors feelings, either about that or about something else going on in their life.

Emotional engagement is what drives fans and fan culture.

This is why I have so much trouble taking creators seriously when they moan about fandom.

“Oh woe is us,” they moan, “we made art and people liked it so much they want to engage with it emotionally.”

“We suffer terribly,” they complain, “people have formed communities around their love and engagement with our work. Pity us.”

And yeah, sometimes we engage with things in ways that are unexpected, or unexpectedly intense, or even down right odd. And that’s okay. That’s actually great. If you make a thing, and someone finds it meaningful to them. Meaningful enough to want to keep right on interacting with, and to talk to others about, and to defend to other people? How are you not doing a happy dance about that? Why on earth would you be upset?

As a media creator, if a fan is harassing or threatening you, or pressing on or crossing your boundaries, that’s terrible, and you should do what you need to handle that.

But when you’re complaining that fans are loving your characters to much, or writing stories about them you wouldn’t have thought of, or interpreting them in new and interesting ways… consider that you may in fact, be acting like a jerk. Because you probably are.

  1. Has the fan/creator relationship changed?

Yes I think it has. I think the statement ‘the fan creator relationship has changed’ is about the only accurate statement in the whole silly article. Faraci keeps insisting that things have changed because fandom has somehow mutated, or grown out of control.

That isn’t it. Fandom is pretty amorphous, as I mentioned, and constantly moving onto new platforms, but we’re all pretty much just fanning away here the same as we ever have. What’s changed, what’s really changed is that creators and whiny media critics went from either being unaware of us or genteely ignoring us, to wandering into our spaces, knocking things off the shelves and occasionally peeing on the carpet. So, seeing as they were already there, we decided to talk to them.

And now we have to figure out how to deal with that.

Now to be totally honest there are some parts of fandom I think creators should be kept away from. If fandom ship wars could be totally divorced from all discussions of representation with a huge giant wall I would be delighted. If actors were never ever made to read smutfic about their characters again it would still be too soon.

But to say that fans should stop advocating for more inclusive stories, or to lump them in with people advocating the exact opposite because they can’t be bothered to do otherwise, is not acceptable behaviour.

If creators are uncomfortable with what we do with the toys they give us, they should stay out of fandom. They’re adults, they have back-buttons like the rest of us, and its on them to use them.


Sure is a State of Being: An Every Heart A Doorway Review

I’ve finished Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, again (in my defense it’s a dainty little book, not even 200 pages). I love it. I have not one single negative thing that I can think of to say about it. I wish I could send a copy back in time to my teenage self, because she really could have used a book like that.

First off, take a minute before you start reading to really appreciate the cover art, because its wonderful.

Mechanically, it’s a great book. The pacing is great; tense, but not rushed. The world-building is incredibly lush, not only for Eleanor’s school and the general setting, but also for each of the students’ portal worlds, even the ones that only get described for a passage or so. The classification system developed to explain the different portal universes, plotted on two axes, virtue to wickedness and nonsense to logic, but peppered with minor directions like, rhyme, and linearity, is just plain fun. Its also very fan-friendly. Its deeply appealing for self-sorting (I’m high virtue, high logic, low linearity, how about you?) and its just begging to be used as an AU setting. The characters are wonderfully lifelike, diverse and brilliantly written. They all have immense emotional depth and even when I didn’t like them, I felt for them.

So, I’ve been looking forward to this book since I first heard the premise, because a boarding school for portal fantasy heroes is exactly the sort of story I would like, regardless of anything else. But when I found out that it had an ace lead character I immediately bought it in hard cover, instead of just getting a kindle version. Having actually read it, I now need a folio edition because a regular hard-cover just doesn’t express my love of this book sufficiently.

Not only is Nancy an ace character, she’s a fantastic ace character. She’s well developed and interesting and her asexuality is an integral and integrated part of her, but never subsumes her personality. I have nothing bad at all to say about her. I love her. I am deeply grateful to Seanan McGuire for writing her.

There’s one thing in specific, about the way that Nancy’s identity is presented that I want to focus on, the paragraph where Nancy first comes out:

“I’m asexual. I don’t get those feelings” She would have thought her lack of sexual desire had been what had drawn her to the Underworld – so many people had called her a “cold fish” and said she was dead inside back when she’d been attending an ordinary high school, among ordinary teenagers, after all – except that non of the people she’d met in those gloriously haunted halls had shared her orientation. They lusted as hotly as the living did. The Lord of the Dead and the Lady of Shadows had spread their ardour throughout the palace, and all had been warmed by its light.

It would have been incredibly easy to overlook that people might associate asexuality with an affinity for death, or to leave the clarification for later. But instead, the whole train of thought is cut off right away. No one gets a chance to ask if maybe Nancy’s sexual orientation is why Nancy was drawn to the Underworld, so no one has a chance to decide that the answer is yes. Its an incredibly deft way of dodging a nasty stereotype, and I really appreciated it.


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Academic Politics in Numb3rs: A Millie Finch Appreciation Post

 So the subplot in Numb3rs Season 3 episode “Waste Not” is Charlie and Amita’s conflict with their pushy new Head of Department, Millie Finch. Millie Charlie and Amita’s relationship gets a good deal more friendly in later episodes, but in this episode in specific, its pretty hostile. Central to the conflict, Millie demands that Amita serve on the curriculum committee and Charlie serve on the graduate admissions committee.

This sounds like an annoying bureaucratic request, and it is. But its worth talking through the way that committees work in universities, because it’s a bigger part of Charlie’s character arc than you might think.

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On A Fandom Terminology Gap

So there’s a lot of tropes and trends that exist either in media or in the fandom that surrounds it, that are problematic (term used here without irony).

And some of those things really are straight up problematic. Whitewashing and straightwashing characters and settings for example, is pretty much always unnecessary and gross. Characters who are based around ableist stereotypes (*cough* Sheldon Cooper *cough*) are pretty much gross wherever you find them.

And then there’s a lot of things that are “problematic”, not because they’re intrinsically bad, but just because they’re so overwhelmingly common that they’re drowning out all other narratives.

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Come Stand Under My Umbrella

I will say this for The Thinking Aro, they always make me think, even if sometimes, what I’m thinking is, ‘please stop’.

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Book Review: Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, by Ann Herendeen

This was originally published at in January.  And I’ve only just realized it never got cross-posted to this blog.

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Master Chief is not like Grant Ward!!!!

So yesterday (well, it was yesterday when I started this, it’ll have been a few days by the time I finish it) my friend, and our resident loremaster Haruspis encountered a terrible thing. This terrible thing. Look at it. Its terrible.   So we had a little discussion about how terrible this was. Which is here, if the screenshot isn’t readable.

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What Would Happen if We Got Paid for Fanfiction

Over the course of my life-time, I will only buy a certain number of couches.  Every couch I buy from Ikea, is one I’m not buying elsewhere, and every couch I find on the side of the road is one I’m not paying for at all.  This puts all couch sellers in competition for my couch buying dollars.  And the same goes for food, shoes, bedsheets, and most other commodities.

This children, is called Capitalism.  And its invasive and inescapable.

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Aimless Meanderings about Headcanons and Representations

As part of the current rush of pre-Halo 5 rush of information, Michelle Lukes, a mixed race British actress, was recently revealed as the new voice for Kelly-087.

A tweet announcing that Michelle Lukes will voice Kelly-087 in Halo 5, an image of Kelly-087 from Halo 5 aiming a pistol, and an image of Michelle Lukes doing the same.

Kelly is a long standing and beloved character in the Halo’verse and has, in addition to Ms. Lukes, been portrayed by voice actress Luci Christian (in Halo Legends) and actress Jenna Berman, who are both white.  This does technically leave a certain amount of room for interpretation of Kelly’s race.  But as far as I’m concerned, Kelly is now a canonically mixed race character, and I think you should all agree with me.

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Earthly Knights

John and Cortana’s relationship is, in essence, one long retelling of The Ballad of Tam Lin.

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