Can Fandom Change Society? | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios

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 media. 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 heteronormative 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 that. 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 product. 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.

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