Notes on a Fandom: In Defense of Fans


Notes on a Fandom is a column dedicated to lesbian/bi fandom in its various incarnations. It also feature thoughts and comments from you, the fans. Follow @DanaPiccoli on Twitter and Tumblr to keep up with the latest topics and questions.

Is fandom destroying pop culture? Buzzfeed seems to think so. The site recently posted a piece by Richard Rushfield called The Case Against Fans. In it, he asks if fans are actually contributing to the decline of entertainment culture by being too focused on their own agenda. It was inspired by the recent Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign, in which fans came out in droves to financially back a long awaited VM movie. While he does make some valid points, he comes down quite hard on fandom. As someone who chronicles fandom, I think it is undeservedly harsh. Fans aren’t perfect, but to suggest that there is some sort of grand agenda by fans to keep the status quo and a refusal to be challenged by new stories or ideas, doesn’t quite add up in my book.

First though, let’s be honest. Fans can be as fickle as we are loyal. No one ever said we were the most rational of communities. I believe that stems from our intense emotional connection to the material. Gay and lesbian fans, in particular, are fierce. Why? Because we have to be. Without the ferocity of the lesbian fanbase, characters like Paige McCullers and Arizona Robbins likely wouldn’t exist. We fight like hell for visibility. We use Twitter and Tumblr to create a united front, to aggregate information, to campaign. This is not a bad thing. We the fans are consumers.

When we start making demands that is where the slope becomes slippery. Some show runners and writers have pushed back, letting us know that we can’t always get what we want. They are absolutely right. Not everyone can ride off into the sunset. That would be awfully boring.

I asked on Twitter, if you thought fans set expectations too high. Here are some of your responses.

The desire for a happy ending can cloud our vision, but I believe that most fans will accept and respond to a narrative curveball, as long as it is true to character and maintains the integrity of story. This is effectively being done for example on Grey’s Anatomy, with the Callie and Arizona storyline. The couple has faced some enormous obstacles, but Shonda Rhimes never lets us forget who these characters truly are and that their bond is unbreakable.

Mr. Rushfield laments that fan culture is set in its ways and does not want to be challenged. I think this is an oversimplification. I’m a flailing fangirl, and I love to be challenged. That’s why I’m such a fan of Pretty Little Liars. I never know what I’m getting, but I trust the writers implicitly because they always come through with thoughtful, intelligent, heart-stopping storytelling. Give me what you’ve got. Just give it to me beautifully. I think this is very true of my most of my fellow fans. Yes of course, some fans will never be happy. Some fans say and do things I find shocking and disrespectful, but I think that this is a very small minority. Threatening a writer or director, or relentlessly tweeting cruel and personal jabs is unacceptable. (I call this, CUF — Conduct Unbecoming a Fangirl.) Zealots of any sort are rarely given credence. To think that this subset of fans is the driving force behind any artistic decisions, is not giving enough credit to writers and producers in entertainment.

Often times though, fandom is encouraged to have a dialogue with writers, actors and the like. Hashtags are created to spur discussion, to catalog fans’ thoughts. Twitter has become the largest focus group in the world. The one-way glass has been shattered and the door has been opened to mutual exchange. About Twitter, Mr. Rushfield had this to say.

On Twitter, the medium demands that individuals come out with all the exclamation points they can muster for (or against) whatever has passed through them. The result is a pass/fail culture, where nuance and moderation are drowned out, where the search for meaning in a work becomes secondary to cataloging its articles of cool.

I think quite the opposite. I find that fans on Twitter are very concerned with nuance. I’ve seen numerous discussions breaking down the minutia of a scene or the way a character dips her head when she’s overwhelmed. It’s amazing what one can express with 140 characters. The “cool” factor is heavily outweighed by emotional impact. Also, there is a very high level of support among fans themselves. There is a strong desire to share content and feelings, and promote fellow fans.

Look, I have no desire to be in control of someone else’s story and I don’t believe that is truly what my fellow fans want either. Entertainment for the masses cannot exist in vacuum, however. It must be inclusive and considerate. If fans never expressed what they wanted, we’d still be waiting for representation. There is no grand fan conspiracy to stick to the status quo. People naturally cling to what they know, it’s human nature. Give them a story with heart and integrity, and fans will open themselves to new experiences. Perhaps grudgingly at first, but it will happen. The key is to be respectful of each other and those who create art. And as always, flail on fangirl. Flail on.

Biweekly, Notes on a Fandom will feature a different fandom-centric topic. Stay tuned to my Twitter (@danapiccoli) and Tumblr for updates.

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