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In Defense of Fans via Fractured Fandom

In defense of fans and fandom, I want to make clear that I would not argue that fractured fandom happens all the time or involves a majority of the population of any particular fandom. What I would say about fractured fandom is that it reflects a larger social and cultural issue, in the United States at least. An issue that involves a problem of an increasing inability to “listen first, talk second” when people interact with one another — especially with someone to whom they are opposed for some reason, be it ideological, value, or behavior. An issue that involves the collapsing of traditional identities and identity boundaries, which can be seen by some as an opportunity while others will see it as causing confusion and uncertainty and even fear. These are very real, very serious issues about the human condition in our post-modern, 21st century world, and they are issues reflected in our very human interactions in our fandoms.

So, to me, as a fan of many things for as long as I can remember — I must remember to tell you my stuffed Ewok toy story — I am not saying that the presence of fractured fandom means a fandom, and its fans, are wrong in some way, that they are poor reflections of the human condition. Indeed, they are just human, just as much flawed and wonderful as everyone.

But the issue of fractured fandom is about a need to be aware of such issues and problems at work within a fandom, amongst fans. Only with awareness can we work out what we are doing good, what we are doing poorly, and what we could do to make things better. Only with awareness of the fractures within a fandom, and what is happening to create and/or perpetuate them, can fans work together to address the problems they experience.

And I do think this has to be about fans working together within a fandom to address their own fractures. It cannot be about people outside of the fandom trying to impose new values, codes, and behaviors within the fandom. I do believe that fans may be more likely to listen to other fans than to anyone else. Because I believe that, it means we need to start a focus on dialogue, on communication, on respectful listening there. We as fans need to improve our social literacy skills and focus first on understanding a situation, on understanding others, and from there work together to address problems.

Hopefully, by doing so within any fandom, what is learned about addressing a fractured fandom could be applied to other areas of life. Hopefully by addressing fractured fandom, we could better address how these issues and problems are impacting the various public arenas of U.S. society and culture.

Fan Privilege and Fractured Fandom

Lately, almost every day reveals another story that could be related to a phenomenon I have been discussing on this blog: fractured fandom. Just within the past week, we have had stories about Men’s Rights Activists being misogynists in video gaming communities (here and here), a consideration of how the generation gap is causing problems on the convention circuit, and how sexual threats against video game critic Anita Sarkeesian forced her from her house. Many stories circulate online, but how many more do we not know? How many people are being physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally threatened and abused because they dare to love something that, perhaps, was not traditionally targeted at them? And why? Why feel so threatened by others enjoying something you like, or asking for that thing to be more inclusive?

I’ve talked about how men can feel threatened by the influx of women into the various geek and nerd fandoms, and perhaps that helps us understand people like the MRA men who do not want to have to change how they do things. I’ve talked about misperception and cognitive dissonance and perhaps this psychological approach can help us to understand the mindset of those who would perpetuate tensions and problems in the fandoms. But I think we can go one step further and consider a topic that has been discussed in many places of our public discourse lately: the phenomenon of “privilege.”

whiteprivilege_knightAccording to this sociological concept, some individuals have an advantageous position in society simply because of the race, gender, class and other demographic categories to which they are born. This does not mean that such people do not work hard to succeed, only that the social, cultural, political, and economic systems are set in such a way that helps to remove barriers to their success in those systems. Advantages are built into these institutions, consciously or unconsciously, overtly or covertly, that give certain people a leg up on others simply due to the group they belong to due to birth.

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An Autoethnography of Collegium – Day Two

Day 2: Sunday, June 22nd

On the topic of mass…

I am still uncomfortable joining in on the spiritual sessions and Catholic Eucharist ceremonies that are scheduled for this colloquium.  I feel like an intruder, an interloper, a negative presence.  There is nothing that anyone here has said or done that has made me feel this way.  In fact, I appreciate their willingness and desire to offer a blessing to those who beseech it, such as those other other religious affiliations who would like to experience the ritual.  And they offer many different spiritual discussions that I am sure can be seen as less denomination than the sacramental rituals.  But I would feel disingenuous in being blessed, as it would have no impact on me.  I do not believe, that is the simple truth of it all.  Perhaps before the end of this week, I will venture into one session, just to listen, which appears to be my main goal here, as I cannot partake in conversations about religion.

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Comics Adaptations Causing Fractured Fandom

We are now full swing into the summer blockbuster season for Hollywood, and let’s take a tally of movies that are currently out or soon to arrive that originate from the pages of comic books.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Hercules.  Guardians of the Galaxy.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.  Kingsman: The Secret Service.  Big Hero 6. 

I am so looking forward to this one.

I am so looking forward to this one.

All of this, without mentioning the big hitters coming soon, such as the second Avengers movie, or the one that finally brings Wonder Woman to the screen while pitting Batman v. Superman.  All of this, a range of titles for the young to the mature.  And these are only Hollywood films.  Consider all of the movies made from comic books around the world, and the numbers are staggering.  The top ten comic book adaptation movies have grossed around $4.05 billion dollars in just over a decade, proving their dominance at the box office in the United States and around the world.

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Genre Mashing in Professional Wrestling

After the event of this weekend, where normally we are only needing to remember our veterans but must now also remember those young men and women who died at the whim of a terrorist — of a misogynist extremist — I need to take a break from discussing fractured fandom and the sexist, and misogynist, tensions in geekdom to talk about something else.

We could argue that professional wrestling does its part to reflect and affirm the sexism of the world.  Many have written about this topic, from the way the female wrestlers are portrayed to the overtly dominating and violent masculinities that are presented as ideal, as role models for young boys to emulate.  And while it is hard to see a lingerie match and not think about this problem, or to watch the painful submissions wrestlers force each other into and wonder if the fans believe such is the way of life — while those are the very reasons I avoided and even derided professional wrestling for most of my life — I am not here to discuss such matters.

I am here because last year I saw the documentary For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley and I decided I needed to get off my judgmental high horse and give this sports entertainment a chance.  I decided to watch this documentary because I had seen Mick Foley on The Daily Show with John Stewart (such as here) and found him to be far more articulate and sensitive than I had considered possible of professional wrestlers, having grown up during the Hulk Hogan era.  In the documentary, I was amazed to learn how much charity work Foley has done, and I further felt that he possessed the type of soul that I had not thought likely in those of his profession.  Going further, learning about how he supports and advocates for women’s rights, gays’ rights, and a whole slew of causes important to me, just further endeared him to me.  So much so that the highlight of my recent C2E2 convention was to have my picture taken with him.

My partner and I with former professional wrestler, current comic book author, and all around social activist, Mick Foley. (C2E2 2014)

My partner and I with former professional wrestler, current comic book author, and all around social activist, Mick Foley. (C2E2 2014)

And it is not just Foley who displays these rather progressive stances — especially given the stereotyped nature of the sport and its fans over the years.  Both former superstar (and I am talking mega superstar) Stone Cold Steve Austin and current contender (and soon-to-be Marvel star) Dave “The Animal” Bautista have come out recently in support of gay marriage. Learning these things, learning about the men behind the masks and the hyper-muscularity, helped me turn around my thoughts on professional wrestling, to be willing to give it a chance.  And my partner has been helping me learn the lingo (heels, faces, over, etc) while we discuss the hyperreal and socially constructive nature of the entertainment.  I have found it to be a fun learning experience, and I no longer hold the judgments I once did.

All of that is to say that I come to this world relatively fresh, a wrestling newbie, with perhaps more of a scholarship angle than most wrestling viewers.  And it was with this scholarship angle that I attended a panel at C2E2 featuring my man Foley discussing the overlaps between comic books and professional wrestling.  He was joined on the panel by illustrator Jill Thompson, who has worked with Foley on his children’s books, and publisher Jim Salicrup of Papercutz.

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One of the main overlaps the panel discussed was the focus on hyper-muscular characters in colorful costumes.  This overlap was one my partner and I had repeatedly discussed (one the profession is quick to point out), and wrestlers have even utilized it in their performances, such as ECW’s Raven.  There is the same focus in both media on very muscular — almost to the point of ludicrous – bodies that are covered, primarily, in skin-tight clothes emblazoned with colors and emblems that serve to identify the wrestlers to their fans in the same the way the superhero’s costume identifies the hero to its readers.

Beyond these basic aesthetic similarities, there are also overlaps in the narratives — or, more to the point, in the way narratives are utilized in the serial storytelling of both media.  In essence, Foley and the others remarked how the same storylines happen over and over — that if you wait long enough, the audience will have forgotten a storyline, and it can be recycled.  But as they are recycling storylines, the wrestlers on the one hand and the comic book writers on the other need to find ways to make them seem new, fresh, and compelling.  So stories of sudden betrayal can take on a different feel depending on who is betraying who or what cause — whether it is in the ring or in the panels.

Another overlap includes the centrality of characters to the storytelling and entertainment.  Fans fall in love with characters, have certain wrestlers or heroes that they look up to or despise, and then base much of their reaction to the stories on those characters, what happens to them, and how the characters handle themselves.  Thus, for both wrestling and comics, the introduction or origin story for the characters are tremendously important to form those first impressions in the audience.  And as the story progresses, having the right amount and kind of heat on the character, providing logical and emotional arcs of conflict and resolution, are necessary for sustaining audience interest.  In both media, then, the storylines need to be good at character development.

What was interesting to me was to hear how much the wrestlers themselves have to be good at building and sustaining this character development.  I had assumed, hearing how “wrestling is fake,” that the bouts inside the ring and everything outside of the ring were completely scripted.  But in learning more about this world, you come to learn that the overarching storylines may be determined, and the winners of the bouts are known ahead of time behind the scenes (and sometimes in the online fan discussions).  However, what happens in the ring to get to the end of the bout, and what the wrestlers may have to say and do to further the storyline, can be greatly up to the wrestlers to determine.  This agency was seen dramatized in the film The Wrestler and has been discussed elsewhere, such as in this clip:

Foley grew up as a Hulk fan.  He loved comics growing up and told us how he had a need to create heroes, which may be why he became a professional wrestler, although he did not realize the overlap until later.  For Foley, until 1996, there was no scripting, no writers, that he had to listen to or rely upon to help him develop his characters and his wrestling style.  There was just bookers, who helped him get from match to match.  So he created and developed the characters, these heroes, on his own and always had to think for himself on the spot — and this need to be able to think quick and improvise continues to be a skill that the superstars have to rely upon.  As he said on the panel, if a wrestler is not thinking for himself or herself, then that person will have less of a connection with the audience because he or she will not be good at sustaining characters and performances.  Wrestlers who cannot improvise and perform lack the ability of negotiating and building authenticity with the audience — many of whom are very aware of the scripted aspects of the sport.  Perhaps this ability to quickly think on his feet also explains why Foley currently tours the country with a stand-up comedy show.

Another interesting overlap between professional wrestling and comic books are the times when they literally overlap — when comics are made about or feature wrestlers.  We can see this phenomenon going back to the early 1990s, when Valiant and Marvel comics had different deals with the then WWF (now WWE) to feature the WWF wrestlers in established or new series, with some being more successful than others.  Currently, Super Genius, a subset of Papercutz, is releasing WWE Superstarsan alternate universe comic where the wrestlers are all versions of themselves, just not wrestlers (even though they know wrestling moves).  The series is being written by Foley with his writing partner Shane Riches — hence the reason Foley was at C2E2.  Another current title is independently produced Headlocked, which we also picked up at C2E2. Not focusing on any specific WWE superstar but on the art of professional wrestling, the comic does feature stories and art contributed from real wrestlers, such as Jerry “The King” Lawler — we totally got Lawler to autograph our copy.

What’s interesting is how these overlaps between wrestling and comics show not just a blending or crossover of media, but also a mashing of different genres and generic sensibilities.  For example, Foley’s comic utilizes genre conventions from film noir while still showcasing these larger than life characters that are central to professional wrestling.  And, in a sense, this completely works and is completely understandable, because on the basic level, that is what professional wrestling is all about — mashing genres together.

In the documentary released by the WWE for its 50th anniversary, some of the wrestlers and promoters interviewed discussed professional wrestling as combination of comedy, action, and suspense given how the characters and the storylines were constructed and presented — but we could also add superhero and melodrama to this mixture by commenting on the larger than life characters whose stories unfold in serialized, rather overly dramatic fashion in the course of days, months, and even years.  In the special features for the film The Wrestler, there is a roundtable discussion interviewing former superstars like Rowdy Roddy Piper, Lex Luger, and Diamond Dallas Page.  And while they promoted the film’s ability to show the reality through the construction, they likewise discussed the various genre elements that come into the production not just of a single bout but of an entire, years long feud.

Professional wrestling then is more than a sport — it is an entertainment form that layers onto the sport of wrestling the elements from fictional genres.  Considering it from a reception theory perspective, professional wrestling is perhaps the most polysemic text in modern pop culture.  With so many different layers of meaning due to the mashing of genres, the text offers audience members with highly variable preferences for their entertainment the possibility to find something of value.  Additionally, the fans of the text have a different interaction, a different status, than the fans of “real sports.”

In other professional sports, the interaction between the fans and the athletes is there, but it is rarely seen and rarely important to the progression of the sporting matches except in key moments.  For example, in American football, a home team can have advantage for its defense through crowd noise.  In baseball, the fans can aid their teams by psyching out the umpire and the batter, thereby potentially giving their team an advantage in hits.  However, this is no where near the same amount or type of interaction between individual athletes and fans as seen in WWE, and professional wrestling at large.

From my alma mater - Go Badgers!

From my alma mater – Go Badgers!

As mentioned, the wrestlers’ on the spot performance helps to determine whether or not they can connect with the fan and develop a successful character arc.  If the fans are behind the wrestler — if the wrestler is over with them, in other words — then it can help to secure not only the storyline but the wrestler’s tenure within the industry.  In the documentary on the history of the WWE, Chairman Vince McMahon basically said that they attend to the fans’ reactions to know what to do with a character and a storyline.  In this way, the wrestling fan has input over the sporting and the entertainment aspects — if a wrestler is over with a crowd, then that wrestler may suddenly begin to win more matches, or to switch from heel to face.

All of this is to say that professional wrestling mashes together genres, reaches out to its fans, because it has to.  There is no need to negotiate authenticity and legitimacy in “real sports” given its non-predetermined nature.  Except for the rare cases when a match has been rigged, there is no way to know with 100% certainty what the outcome will be — even a sure win could be suddenly undone by an unforeseen injury.  Such sports do not need to have layers of genre conventions or outreach and empowerment of fans because the main entertainment comes in the not knowing, in the unscripted competition, in the realness.  In such sports, the art of the game or the match is in the athleticism and competition of the players, not in the narrative and aesthetics of the characters.

As mentioned at the C2E2 panel, there is an appreciation of both professional wrestling and comics as an art form in spite of their artifice.  While we know someone writes and illustrates the battles of superheroes and supervillains, we do not base the comic book’s artistic value on its authenticity versus its artifice — there is no authenticity in superpowered beings battling for supremacy, no matter how realistically depicted (sorry, Christopher Nolan).  We negotiate the meaning of such stories through what they do to us — how they make us think and feel — based on how we react to the narrative and aesthetics developed by the writers and the illustrators.

In professional wrestling, we negotiate meaning, and thus authenticity and legitimacy, in the say way.  Once you realize that a match is predetermined, then you need to see the art of the match in terms of its narrative, aesthetics, and athletics.  We come to love certain wrestlers over others through their stories, through their appearance, through their interaction with us, both inside and outside of the ring (many of these superstars are adept at Twitter and Facebook).  Moreso, since these bouts and stories can be comic books brought to life, we can also appreciate the sport as we do other sports, through the athleticism of the wrestlers, which is for the most part very real (except sometimes less so, John Cena).

One of my current favorites, "Grandpa Dave."

One of my current favorites, “Grandpa Dave.”

Once we learn and understand how the artifice produces professional wrestling, then we are left to negotiate what is authentic, legitimate, and meaningful about it by making these appraisals on the narrative, aesthetic, and athletic layers.  How we determine what is the art of professional wrestling is a negotiation of the producer’s intention, what is in the text, and how the audience responds.  And given the importance of those three layers, and the variety within each, there are many entry points and many points at which fans can defend professional wrestling as “yeah, it’s fake, but the story/appearance/ability of the wrestlers isn’t”.  Once you have reached that point — once you have found the aspect of professional wrestling that aligns with your preferences for entertainment — then this genre mashing spectacle can be very compelling.

Take it from a new convert, and perhaps a new addict as well.

Problems with Perceptions in Fandom

Part of the process of understanding the phenomenon of fractured fandom is to gather stories that thematically reveal its nature, such as my ongoing analysis of how My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fans reacted to the feature film Equestria Girls and its soon-to-be sequel Rainbow RocksThe more stories we can gather, then the more we can learn (tweet your stories with #fracturedfandom, whether the fandom is pop culture, sport, literary, religious, political or otherwise). 

Another part of the process is to theorize from these stories the reasons for the fractures.  The session I attended at C2E2 on sexist tensions in geekdom is only one of a multitude of places in which we can have such discussions.  In my post responding to that session, I focused on answering this “why” question by examining what we could consider to be masculine anxieties about their fandom including women and feminine fan activities.  In this post, I want to add upon what was discussed at that session by bringing in a more psychological approach to attempting to answer the “why” question.

Essentially, I want to consider the issue of perceptions — and misperceptions — people have as fans, about fans, about themselves, and how these views of the world can impact how they make sense of it and act within it.

If we consider the idea broadly, then we can think of a perception as a layer between our inner self and the outer world.  We have a range of bodily sensations (i.e. touch, taste, sight, sound, smell) that are our way of knowing what is outside of use (and sometimes what is happening inside of us, such as a growling and rumbling hungry stomach or a sweaty palm of embarrassment).  However, we do not just take in these sensations to know the world unfiltered.  If you were not able to filter out what you were listening to while walking down the street, then you would not be able to listen to music and talk to someone simultaneously.  We can select what we attend to, what we filter out, in order for our sensations to not overwhelm us and thus allow us to cope in the world.

Sometimes we consciously choose what we want to attend to — i.e. your lover’s declaration of love over the football game on the television — while at other times such attention is more unconsciously determined.  I think the only reason I do not bump into more students on campus with their eyes glued to their smart phones is because, unconsciously, they are attentive enough to their surroundings so as to look up mere moments before such a collision would occur.  All of this means is that sometimes we are aware of the reasons we have for directing attention as we do, while at other times that reason may not be directly available for us to recall.  There can be a multitude of reasons for our selective attention (seriously, see all the psychological studies).  And beyond just determining what we may attend to, these reasons can also impact how we attend to them.

That is to say, the reasons can impact how we perceive of these sensations, of what is happening in the world around us or even in our own bodies.  We may perceive a sensation in such a way that it helps us to make sense of ourselves, of others, of the world.  We can interpret this thing we are attending to in a certain way given some way of thinking or feeling — some attitude — we have about that thing.  If we believe the thing to be good, then our perception will be different than if we believe it to be bad.  How we attend, perceive, interpret, make-sense of that thing will impact what we do about it.  If we perceive grilled meat to be a good thing, then the smell of it could make us hungry; if we perceive eating meat as being ethically wrong, then the smell will turn us off.

All of which is to say that, psychologically speaking, how a fan perceives other fans, the fandom, and even the object of affection can impact how they act with other fans, and thus could be implicated in causing fractured fandom.

Not exactly a positive perception of fans at work here.

Not exactly a positive perception of fans at work here.

According to the panel discussion at C2E2, there remains a misperception by those in fandom that the identities of “geek” and “women” are not compatible.  Apparently the perception in fandom, which perhaps reflects the larger social and cultural perception, is that being geeky is unfeminine, or that more feminine you are the less of true geek you are because fandom is a guy thing.  And this is not just occurring within pop culture fandoms — this assumption has long been the perception in sports fandoms, which have been positioned traditionally as areas of masculinity.  So based on this perception of fandoms as masculine, women assume that to fit in they have to diminish their femininity so as to not get shit for participating in it.  And based on this perception of the larger culture/society that fandom is feminine, that might be why we have male nerds/geeks pushing back by asserting their masculinity so as not to feel threatened by the influx of female nerds/geeks (see previous post).

Additionally, perception can come in through this concept that was discussed called “imposter syndrome,” a term to describe the feeling a person will get if he or she does not feel that she is worthy of the position s/he is in.  It is the fear of being “found out” that one is not as smart or as creative or as tough etc etc as the people with whom we are working.  Which means it is a perception about ourselves and about others, and about how others are better than ourselves.  Since we perceive ourselves as not as good as those around us, we may set a higher bar for ourselves to achieve the goal because we feel we are not as worthy as those around us.

How this relates to fandom goes back to the perception that the fandom is intended as a masculine space, and that the texts and activities that constitute the fandom are directed at men.  A women then might perceive that is not like these men, is not part of the target community of the fandom, and thus may feel like an imposter in their midst.  This could mean that she is afraid of doing more in the fandom because she is afraid of being found out as an imposter.  As discussed at the panel, this perception that is the imposter syndrome can also involve and/or lead to internalized sexism, racism, etc, as the perceive perceives the difference and comes to accept it as “normal.”  Overall, this perception results in a potential shutting down of dialogue on the problems that can lead to a fractured fandom, which thereby leads to a perpetuation of the sexism, racism, and other -isms that fracture fandoms.

Many potential solutions to the issues of sexism in fandom were discussed at the panel, from the need to get members of target community, allies, to step in with their voice and power to having these allies help make marginalized voices louder by moderating online spaces to become dialogic discursive places (such as this mentioned example). The idea being that there needs to be improved empathy, identification, and perspective-taking among those of the target community who may be unwittingly perceiving the women as imposters and treating them as such.  At the same time, the panel discussed the need for more and better enforcement of anti-harrassment policies at conventions.

However, as was mentioned, push-back to such policies does exist as people don’t think the policies are necessary — perhaps because do not perceive that there is a problem, or they do not want to perceive there is a problem.  Those pushing back may not not like to think that their favorite spaces need such policing.  Fans do not want to see other fans as problematic because we are all fans, which has been increasingly positioned as a positive, as something to celebrate.  And then there is also a defensiveness as people perceive themselves as the target while they do not perceive themselves that way: “I am not that guy, so why imposing on me?”

Which brings up another perception that could be causing push-back — the perception that proving harassment could be entirely one-sided, “he-said she-said,” meaning that a woman could perceive harassment where none was intended, making the case be one of his word versus her word.  We see the same argument, the same perception, in the public discourse over rape.  And while I would never say it all comes down to misperceptions, it may be possible for such misperceptions to play a role — and if men in particular perceive the role of misperceptions, well, then they could play a big role in the push-back to these policies, and indeed to the way they treat women in fandom in general.

In the paper I heard at PCA on fake geek girls, one reason for why it occurs mentioned the idea of a compulsory heterosexual discourse.  In a sense, men see women engaging, particularly, in cosplay where they wear revealing costumes and perceive these women as wanting sexual attention from men.  The men would then believe the actions of these women allows them to objectify the women and not take their interest in the fandom seriously.  Therefore, the men may be misperceiving the reason the women cosplay, and this misperception could be impacting how the men view female fans and thus how they act towards them.  It is that old standard of “she was asking for it” that permeates and perpetuates rape culture and misogynistic extremism.

Finally, perception can work in a trickier way than what I have already discussed.  In psychology, there is a concept called cognitive dissonance.  Cognitive dissonance is the idea that sometimes a person will have an attitude — a belief and a feeling — about something but then act in a way that completely contradicts what they believe and feel.  Say you know that eating too much bacon is bad for your health, but you still order bacon every chance that you get.  Well, there is the chance then that you might feel cognitive dissonance — you may feel guilty about ordering and eating so much bacon.  That negative feeling of guilt is the dissonance — it’s the feeling bad that could also manifest in shame, embarrassment, sadness.  It is a negative state of being that we humans do not like being in.

Because cognitive dissonance is not a nice state to be in, we will find ways to alleviate it.  If you keep order and eating that bacon, then you may do an activity to alleviate the guilt, such as going to the gym every day you eat bacon.  Or you might change your beliefs and rationalize how the amount of bacon you eat is not actually all that bad for your health given how young you are.  There are a number of strategies you could employ to help you feel better about your guilt, such as stopping eating pork bacon all together.  All of this is to say that while we do not like feeling bad when our behaviors do not match our attitudes, we humans have developed many ways of changing how we perceive things in order to deal with the dissonance.

And this concept of cognitive dissonance could be applied to explain the sexist tensions in geekdom.

For example, consider how men react to women who cosplay.  The men may be attracted to the women but may think that the women do not want them so the men will objectify and belittle the women.  The contradiction is in wanting to be near the women but then acting in a way that ensures such closeness will not occur.  The resulting dissonance could then be handled by rationalizing the women ultimately do not matter or that the women are asking for such demeaning treatment.

For another example, consider how men react when women, especially, demonstrate the sexist representations of women in the texts of the fandom.  The men may be (one can hope) agreeing that sexualization and sexist representations are bad, but then they also like the sexualization because they find it attractive, meaning they also like the text with the sexualization and want to continue to engage with text.  The contradiction is in how they view the sexualization and how they want to engage with it.  Ultimately, to deal with this dissonance, they may vehemently disagree that the sexualization is bad (that is, change their belief) or they may attack and belittle those arguing it is bad to sexualize (that is, enact a specific behavior) in order to belittle the argument itself, so as to not have to consider it any more.

Overall, I want to reiterate that these are just theories and ideas for how psychology and the science of perception could be causing the types of sexist tensions in geekdom that in some way cause fractures in fandoms.  Whether it is just basic misperceptions or more complicated cognitive dissonance, I do not think the psychological angle is enough to explain everything that is happening.  I think a social and cultural psychological angle could help, as we look to understand how the society and culture in which the fans exist are determining how they are making sense of their fandom.  Because the perceptions we have about ourselves and each other are often informed by what our society and culture says our beliefs and feelings should be.  They are inextricably woven together.  And in order to fully address the “why” question of fractured fandom, we will need to be able to look at this woven tapestry of, for example, cultural and social messages about gender appropriateness and our own sexist perceptions of people.

Fractured Fandom

The full version of this article first appeared at the Clearance Bin Review.  Given the importance of the concept, fractured fandom, to my work on Doctor Who and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I am bringing the specific elements from the article here.

Now, first and foremost, let it be said that I think these thoughts we have been sharing could apply to any fandom that exists in the world.  We have been speaking in particular to pop culture fandoms, but it could apply just as well to sports fans, patriots, and even religious followers.  I say this because at the core of fandom — at the core of being a fan — is this affection a person has towards some object, which could be anything in reality.  If you love trying new foods, then you are a foodie.  If you love Catholicism, then you are a fan of Jesus Christ.  If you are in a fantasy football league, then you are a sports nut.  We have all kinds of terms for these various peoples, but at their core is their affection, which can border on obsession, with someone or something in their lives that in some way gives meaning to their lives — from bringing joy to bringing hope to bringing company.  Being a fan of something may be just a condition of being a human.

From http://forever-fandoms.tumblr.com/, trying to stop the fandom feuds.

With that said, if you are not a member of a particular fandom — if you do not have the same affection of those that do — then you may have the tendency to think fandoms as monolithic communities of people who get along just because they are fans.  As an outsider, we look at a group and see it holistically, where the differences between people do not matter so much because of how unified they are with the commonality, the affection they all share.  As outsiders, we tend to see a fandom and label them as Whovians (Doctor Who fans), Trekkies (Star Trek fans), Twihards (Twilight fans), foodies, Catholics, sports nuts, etc.  We focus on that overwhelming characteristic and stereotype all members of that fandom as being the same because of their commonality.  We often do not feel the need to look deeper, to understand those within the fandom for their differences, for what makes them  unique.  We see them as the “Other”, not like us.  Given the fandom, and our stance towards it, we may start giving them other labels: stupid, obsessive, childish, immature.

We may think that the one defining characteristic is enough to understand exactly how the entire fandom will act, what their thoughts, feelings, attitudes, behaviors are.  We may make the logical assumption that: given the commonality they share, they must share other characteristics as well.  As scholars, we study a sample of Whovians, and argue it extends to the entire fandom.  As marketers, we determine the buying habits of several foodies, and see it extending to all foodies.  As politicians, we determine how one Protestant congregation will vote and believe all followers will do likewise.

However, to reason as such is a logical fallacy.  It is a hasty generalization, a leap to conclusion, to assume to know all about a large group just due to one or two shared traits.  Being a part of a fandom does not mean that all members are homogeneous: they do not all conform, have their identities scrubbed in order to promote sameness.  Each member is a unique human being, full of contradictions within himself and amongst his fellows.  To label and assume is to downplay their individual uniqueness, which they bring to the fandom and make it such an interesting experience.

Fandoms are not monolithic communities but fractured, containing various factions held together by that commonality they share.  This realization led me to consider how some behaviors I see fans (and myself) engaging in results in these fractures.  And, right now, I see the fractures occurring on three dimensions.  And if you know your Cartesian coordinates from trigonometry and calculus, I am thinking of the dimensions that create three-dimensional space.  Because, after all, I am a science fan.

The first dimension to speak of is the vertical one, your y-axis.  This is a dimension that separates fans from one another based on assumptions of superiority.  These are the fans who might consider themselves better than other fans within the fandom for any number of reasons.  ”I was here first.”  ”I was here before it was cool.”  ”I know more than you.”  These are the fans who may look down from their assumed high perch in the fandom on those newcomers or less ardent or, as has become an issue lately, may not even be true fans, as in “fake geek girls“.  Consider the fans you know who share your affection, and you will most likely find at least one who is playing this positioning game of better than/less than.

Courtesy of Jason Margos: http://jasonmargos.tumblr.com/post/35799349261/real-geek-girl-ink-on-paper-digital-color-font

The second dimension is the horizontal x-axis.  Along this dimension you will find clusters of fans within the fandom who differ from one another in terms of their affection: what aspect of the object they love and how and why, and how and why they express their affection.  You see these fans who form factions based on different shipping: who they believe should end up in a relationship in the canon.  They identify their specific interest in the object through labels that represent who they ship:  And so you end up with: Harry/Hermione, Buffy/Angel, 10th Doctor/Rose, Spock/Kirk.  And with that last pairing, you get an even more specific subset within fandoms: the slashers, those who seek to develop homosexual relationships for heterosexual characters.  These slashers then are pitted against others in the fandom who may be adamantly non-slashers, to the point of wishing to segregate themselves from such activities.  Along this dimension, we can see many different audiences for the object all within one fannish umbrella.

The final dimension is not necessary a fracture within a specific fandom, but it is a comment on fandom and fans overall.  This is the diagonal z-axis, that finally makes for the 3D space.  Here we are looking at the concept of being inside/outside the fandom.  We are considering fandoms as they buttress one another, stacking up to create a universe of fandoms that are more or less connected from each other: the further you move from one fandom to others, then the less alike they will be based upon their objects of affection.  Star Trek and Star Wars are more alike than Star Trek and Twilight or Star Trek and The Green Bay Packers.  And yet, sometimes those fandoms that truly buttress one another feud, saying you cannot be a fan of both, that one is better than the other, that they are more dissimilar than similar.  No doubt this is just the act of identity defense: of the need we all have to develop and maintain a feeling of self-worth.

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But we also see people who will buttress a fandom by being its polar opposite: an anti-fandom.  In these instances, there may be people whose actions are overtly critical of the fandom, the fans, the object of affection they all share.  They share the focus on the object, but they oppose one another in the orientation towards it.  While newer in terms of the pop culture fandoms, this is not really a new idea for other types of fandoms.  After all, sports teams thrive on fan rivalry, and religious wars have been fought because of different orientations to the same object of affection.

Now, these are how I see fandoms breaking down and relating to one another.  It is all just pure thought and speculation now, based on observations and experiences.  I think there is use in looking at fandoms this way because it helps us see the complexities that come from when people interact with one another.  And if we can see these complexities, then perhaps we can do something to help fans within and across fandoms communicate and interact with one another.  So that we can take care of the derogatory labeling of women as “fake geek girls” or the assumption that cosplaying is consent for sexual harassment (here’s a hint: it’s not!).  We can deal with the vitriol spilled online against fans, anti-fans, slashers, and more.  We can find ways of accepting that we all like different objects, or we all like the same object in different ways — and that what matters is that we have the heart and soul to like anything in the first place.

We need to recognize that being a fan is more important than what we are a fan of.

Comics Versus Literary Adaptations

Back in 2007, I attended Comic-Con.  At the time, I presented a paper on comics adaptations into films and the roles of “true believers” at the Comics Arts Conference.  However, it was while I was at that venerable convention, surrounded by the fans and true believers Hollywood was hoping to capture (their energy, their money, their time) by making these adaptations, that I really pondered the ideas I was espousing in the presentation.

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What follows are my thoughts on these ideas from then.  I write them down as I am transcribing from my notebook to a source of more, in all honesty, security and longevity.  And because I want to get myself into the habit of writing my thoughts on the research process down as they come to me.  So to get into the habit for the future, I turn to remembering what I’ve done in the past.

And so, it began…

Read the rest of this entry

Female Fans From the Beginning

I’m late in putting this out there, but it’s worth watching. This is a video from a Star Trek convention from 1973: that’s before the motion picture that reignited the franchise. So these are the true believers, those who followed the television series, and perhaps were starting with the short lived animated series.

These were the precursors for all the conventions that would come, and the conventions that would become the mega-merchandising and marketing affairs of Comic-Con in San Diego.

But what struck me most about this video was not the way people discussed how they related Star Trek to their everyday lives. This is something we find all the time in fandom — and perhaps is a primary reason in why fans, especially scifi/fantasy fans, are marginalized in society and pop culture (until recently, due to how much money Hollywood can make off them).

No, what I found amazing was the presence of women at the convention, engaging in cosplaying and discussing the significance of the series in their lives. Growing up in the 1980s, I thought I was abnormal for being a female geek/nerd. I grew up isolated in the country, in the era before the Internet. I remember a love for Star Wars when the first movies were out — I should tell you the story of my Ewok stuffed doll some time, don’t let me forget — and I even dressed up at Princess Leia once for school (1st grade, get that image out of your head). But I don’t remember any of the kids I went to school with sharing my love. There were only 17 kids in my class, and by the time I got to a bigger school in 6th grade, Star Wars had receded in my mind, and I didn’t really find anyone to talk to about my other loves of The Turtles, The Ghostbusters or The Thundercats outside of my two younger brothers.

And the idea of a girl to talk to about any of this? In elementary school, there were only five other girls in my class. My best friend was the girl who lived closest to me, and we definitely did not share that interest. Even when I did find my re-love of all things science fiction in high school, it was boys that I hung out with, not girls (although I did try D&D once with some girls, and that was interesting). Whenever I saw nerds/geeks in the pop culture, they were boys.

Maybe I just had my head in the sand. Maybe I just wanted to think I was special for being a female nerd/geek, so I could curry favors from the boys around me. But I just did not think women were that prevalent in fandom, and for that long.

Of course, maybe this film is showing the women because they were outliers in the sampling: that they were as uncommon as I thought they would be, and thus were special people to interview.

What I do know is — I’m a fan of fan studies, because as a geek I find all of these questions interesting and fun to investigate.

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Comics Adaptations and True Believers

Think about all of the movies being made lately adapting a comic book or graphic novel.  The superhero movie has become it’s own genre, with every major Hollywood studio trying to create tentpole franchises on well known, and not well known, superheroes.  The studios are even “re-imagining” superheroes who have been in franchises, or attempt at franchises, that have failed or petered our.  X-Men, SpiderMan, Superman, the Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider are some examples of current superheros that are undergoing attempts to remake their images.

But why should they have to remake their image?

Apparently, in their first go around, the producers failed to produce a media product the audience wanted.  In the cases of X-Men and SpiderMan, this failing occurred in the third film. With Superman, an initial attempt at a re-imagining fell flat.  With Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider, the first real adaptations did not sell well enough.

But what makes for a good superhero movie?

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In my paper, Comics Adaptations and True Believers, I argue one thing producers should consider are the expectations the fans of these original comic books and graphic novels have when they attempt to adapt such media products to another medium.  These expectations could be formed on several aspects of the canon: the visual representation, the implied aural representation, characterization and plot elements.  For a shorter version of this theorization, I gave a presentation at the Comic Arts Conference of Comic-Con 2007:

Now, I would not argue this should be the only consideration for producers of any adaptations. Of course they should attempt to make the best movie possible at that time, even if that means straying from canon. Naturally, their concern is to appeal to a larger audience who may not have even heard of some of the superheroes being adapted from comic panels to film strips. And the ability to be faithful to canon is impossible for many superheroes whose histories have often been rewritten to adapt them as time went on: a process known as retconning.

However, I would argue that no producer should completely disregard the canon from which the adaption comes: especially for iconic elements in the visual, aural, characteristic or plot aspects of the superhero’s representation. The more iconic the aspect, the more the fans will expect it. Failure to adhere to these icons could be interpreted as disrespecting the material and the history of the superhero.

More important than being completely faithful to the canon, producers should not disrespect the canon through their manipulation of the material or how they engage with the fans before, during and after production. Above everything else, disrespecting the material is disrespecting the fans. And in this day and age, when fans are interconnected via the Internet, share spoilers and criticisms with the speed of electrons, and are the financial force behind ancillary marketing profits, no producers can feel save if they do not respect the fans and the fans’ love for the canon.

To disrespect the fans it to hamper the adaptation, and most likely insuring a re-imagining down the way.

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