Fangirl Saves the World

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Posts Tagged ‘fandom

fiction as religious text, part I

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This is a little different than what I usually post about, but fandom is also important to me and is something I kept meaning to write about and never getting around to. Well, here you are.

standard disclaimer: whether this or that holy text is true is not relevant to the topic of this post; frankly, I don’t know and that doesn’t really bother me. I know this can be a sensitive topic but please just try to roll with the idea.

For a long time, I’ve had this theory that modern day fiction and fandom communities serve basically the same emotional need as traditional organized religion.* I’ve never, as far as I remember, committed this idea to paper (or w/e), but I have given it considerable thought.
There are two essential components to this theory, which I’m going to divide into “narrative” and “community.”
First, narrative. This is the texts themselves. The stories that usually serve this purpose are most likely epic tales of world saving adventure and true deep love and completely fucking awesome badassery: think Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or Final Fantasy – think big. (I’m not sure if smaller, more personal slice-of-life style stories could fill the same role. I’m inclined to think not, but I’d consider the possibility.)
The stories themselves are exciting and fun, and offer an escape from daily life. Even those of you who think I am full of shit can probably agree with me on this point. They allow us access to better worlds, whether it’s because people can use magic or alchemy or the landscape is just prettier or there’s no *isms, we can go to Hogwarts or Middle-earth and it’s way better than our boring, normal and also sometimes difficult lives. Which is – again, harping on the psychological not spiritual thing – kinda like the idea of heaven.
The characters are also a crucial part of this theory. No, I will never be Olivier Armstrong, nor will I ever reach her levels of epic badasery in my real life. In fact, my real life is pretty boring sometimes (and certainly never as interesting as hers) and I’m actually a very shy, anxious person – but when I’m nervous, I can think of her and get some second hand badassery even if all I’m doing is giving a speech in class or calling someone out for being a douchebag.
I think the reason the story needs to be so larger than life in this scenario is so that the characters have room to be completely fucking ridiculously amazing without breaking our suspension of disbelief. It’s reassuring and validating to see stories about people like ourselves doing things like we do in a life we can recognized and identify with as similar to our own, but I don’t think those stories can inspire the same kind of devotion that epics get. (This is skipping ahead a little, but most of the stories I can think of with fucking ginormous fandoms are save the world stories.)
I think these characters fill basically the same emotional need as the saints or god/ess/es. Most of us will never be saints because most of us probably work pretty hard to avoid being thrown to the lions or whatever, but we can still admire their bravery and conviction and try to emulate them in our own mundane lives. Obviously, taking a big test is not the same as being fed to giant carnivores for other people’s entertainment, but these stories are larger than (real) life, and in our small lives, our trials are difficult and frightening for us as we live through them – and when we’re upset or afraid, we can recall those larger than life heros and say “you know what, self? Eowyn killed the goddamn Witch King you can take a stupid test” or “c’mon, Hermione would stand up for what’s right and tell that person they’re being a complete asshole about this” or whatever.
The second component is the fandom, which I think is roughly equivalent to the church community.
Think about it. Fandom is a place where people get together to express their mutual adoration of a given text. The characters and stories have special meaning in the lives of fans. (I’m not saying all fans or even most fans ascribe this level of meaning to their fandoms, but if you like a text enough to be a member of it’s fandom, you clearly enjoy it more than the average reader/viewer/consumer.) Like a religious community, there will probably be intense scrutiny of the text and it’s possible meanings and, in more-or-less the same way religious groups splinter and fight over dogma, fandom breaks off into little groups and argues about whose ‘ship is more canon, whether or not balrogs have wings and how far it is possible to apparate; goddamnit, there’s even the “my version is better” no “my version is better”-type wank in Fullmetal Alchemist fandom as there is in the various editions of the Bible and which texts are/are not apocryphal. (Yes, I just said that; same kind, vastly different degree.)
The most important thing about the community is the community. Here is a place where people speak a common language, if you will; they are moved by the same text you are moved by, they care about the same thing you care about – and they care more than most people. There are plenty of Christian-identifying people who don’t attend church, and then there are those who are there every Sunday, rain or shine. Likewise, lots of people read Harry Potter but only a fraction of those people showed up for the midnight release parties. Among those devoted enough to put on a wizard robe and hat (/shot) there is a sense of belonging that, I imagine, is roughly similar to being a member of a devout religious group.
(This is all guesswork, however, because I have never been a member of an organized religion that I did not invent for the hell of it.) Fans go on pilgrimages to places associated with their texts, whether with the story itself (e.g., the bench Will & Lyra meet on every summer) or it’s creators (e.g., the grave where Tolkien and his wife are buried); basically, they go to places made special (read: holy, in a religious context) by the connection.
If you think I’m full of shit, I don’t blame you, but I would like to point out that this person did actual research and reached roughly the same conclusions about the Twilight fandom as I have drawn here to fandoms in general in her article, The Religion of Twilight. In fact, there is an entire book about it.
I actually have moar thoughts on this topic, but they will have to wait for a separate post.


Written by Fangirl

August 15, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Posted in fandom is funny

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[open thread] slashfic, social justice and you

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If you’re not into meta/fandom, you might’ve missed the ongoing debate about slash. There’s a lot going on, so I’m going to link to a few articles instead of trying, and doubtlessly failing, to come up with something coherent on the subject, as all I have been able to do is chase myself in circles. (Ask Y: I do not enjoy not knowing the answer to something; as I have no answer for this, I’m asking y’all.)
Henry Jenkins, ever my hero, wrote the book (literally) on fan cultures, including an essay called Normal Female Interest In Men Bonking, which is one of my favorites; Geek Feminism has a post on women writing m/m erotica and the queerness or misogyny of slash fandom, and there’s a summary on why male/male fiction written by women is problematic in the eyes of some. metafandom‘s slash tag on Delicious is full of articles and entries, if you really care that much.
So, potential discussion questions: is slash misogynist? if it is misogynist, is it because of the original author’s misogyny (failing to create female characters female readers can identify with), or because of internalized sexism (girls are icky!), both or something else entirely? is it objectifying? fetishizing? Othering? appropriation of another group’s struggles? if so, what should slash writers do about that, if anything? is slash awesome because it gives women symbolic control over men’s bodies when we have, for basically ever, been denied control over our own bodies and sexualities, and basically gives us an excuse to talk, in detail, about what we find sexually appealing? or is it bad because it’s asserting hetero privilege over a marginalized group for our own entertainment? does that change if the (female*) creator/audience is queer, ourselves? if so, in what ways? can slash be a subversive genre? can writing/reading slash empowering, even as it is fetishizing? how do you tackle this particular quandary?
Or basically anything else you can think of. I wanna hear what y’all have to say. Talking in circles, tossing in facts, figures and links to relevant information (as long as they’re relevant), etc. is all fair game. Whatever you want, go!

(xposted from lion-hearted girls prefer blond(e)s.)

*yes, I am operating under the assumption that slash fen are female; I know there are exceptions.

darling, darling please: the politics of representation

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the main cast of "Lucky Star"

the four main characters, from left to right: Tsukasa (the airhead, looking a little surprised) Konata (the ringleader/fangirl, making a cat face), Kagami (the realist, pointing at the viewer), and Miyuki (the perfect girl, posing cutely for the camera).

I recently started watching the moé anime, LuckyStar. There is no plot; the anime is based on a four-panel comic strip of the same name, so each episode is just the four main characters having silly conversations and going about their daily lives. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, since it’s a show about girls talking. I think boys have been mentioned once, not including their immediate family members.

Cool, right?

It is, actually. It’s refreshingly light hearted and I can see elements of my own high school life in there. (I like to watch it after catching up with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, to take some of the edge off of the latest cliffhanger.) What was surprising to me, and what I’m going to be writing about here, is that LuckyStar is for and by men. The author is male, and it’s published in a seinen/shounen magazine.

It seems strange at first, but I can relate to the appeal even if I can’t articulate it. After all, I am an avid fan of the series Hetalia, which is essentially the same concept: characters talking and getting up to silly antics, only the characters in Hetalia are mostly male (and anthropomorphisms of countries, but that’s another problem for another time). The fandom is mainly female. It’s the same idea.

I’m sure a lot could be said about why people are drawn to moé shows full of characters of the opposite gender doing cute things, but that’s not what I’m here about (this time). Instead, I’m writing about the politics of representation.

I mentioned on my personal journal that I had basically the same issue with LuckyStar that I have with Bayonetta and even Portal. They are all women’s worlds – with the exception of the hapless assistant in the Lucky☆Channel segment at the end of each episode (which hilariously deconstructs the kawaii/moé/genki girl trope by showing the female idol acting cranky and embittered when her lines are unscripted) – there is not a single major male character in LuckyStar. The girls talk about whatever is on their minds whether it be the correct way to eat certain foods, how to win a raffle prize or a UFO Catcher game, whether or not it’s better to study long before a test or cram all night before, and so on. It’s a homosocial female universe, but it’s a universe created by and for men.

When I posted about the fact this was a seinen/shounen comic, one of my friends commented that I wouldn’t have a problem with a similar story that was all male, but written by a woman. (Hetalia‘s author/artist is male.) Well, I guess not, but then again, we don’t live in a world where women have been historically granted (almost) exclusive rights to (the representation) of men’s bodies.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with LuckyStar on it’s own. It’s a cute show that puts the emotional world of the female characters front and center. It’s all about them, and that’s cool. Still, it exists in a context, and within that context it’s part of a larger system of male control over the female image/ideal. I wonder, LuckyStar sell so well if the author/artist was female? (I can’t think of any moé series about girls written by women, or about boys written by men; so much for “write what you know.” Write what you feel is missing in your life, maybe?)

I don’t know much about the whole moé thing, but I’m familiar with a few series marketed towards women: Hetalia, StarrySky and Miracle Train. StarrySky was developed by a game team, not a single person; the others were written/directed by men.

The politics of representation are complicated. I can’t hope to sort it all out in one post, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on moé and who is represented and who does the representing.

Written by Fangirl

February 2, 2010 at 8:21 am


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(Title taken from the TV Tropes article; it’s an acronym for the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.)

Both Fandom Wank and Encyclopedia Dramatica (both links are NSFW and ED in particular is basically the polar opposite of a safe space) exist, more or less, to make fun of people who make fools of themselves online. Okay, that’s cool. Maybe a little schadenfreude or gossipy or whatever, but sometimes – as a fan – you have to sit back and laugh at the antics of your fandom. (Admit it: you’ve whined about people who don’t ‘ship your OTP and wondered if they’re even reading/watching the same story as you, gotten annoyed at the newbies who missed the first thousand discussions about the epileptic trees and think they’re the first one to come up with it, and there are some voice actors who should just not talk about their characters, because they’re doin’ it wrong. Remember, there was a time when you were probably not wise enough to keep this outburst in the comfort of your own journal, or a community dedicated to whining about these things.*)

So, now that we’ve established that poking fandom with a big stick can be fun, because this is fandom and we’re all here to have fun, right?, what I wanted to write about is the completely different ways these two sites go about doing what they do. For example, in a recent post in Fandom Wank, the OP made an edit/announcement that the person in question was to be referred to with masculine pronouns, as is his preference. (The person in question – thanfiction – had been known in fandom as Victoria Bitter before he transitioned.) There was some confusion, and a lot of asshattery – but here, in a community dedicated to making fun of people, the OP lays down the law: you can make fun of thanfiction for the drama he’s caused, now and in the past (and boy, has he ever caused a lot of drama), but you may not mock his gender identity.

This is awesome. Here’s a group of people who gather to make fun of other people on the internet, but they’re encouraged not to be douchebags about it.

Encyclopedia Dramatica… well, not so much. (Read at your own risk.) I happened upon an article and it came across as “my [cis/straight/abled] male privilege, let me show it to you shove it in your face!” You could probably play *ism bingo: put a marker down for each oppression you find on ED… but you have to cover the whole board, since I’m sure you can get bingo on one article alone. (I wouldn’t recommend a drinking game; you’d probably get alcohol poisoning from the first article.)

Of course, I’m sure the denizens of ED would claim that they’re just doing what f_w is doing, and I’m just being ~too sensitive~ because I don’t have a sense of humor, or something – but as f_w has shown us, you can be snarky and funny and bitter without being a douche. I’m not sure why that’s so hard for some people.


*sometimes, wank is not just whining, it’s discussing a legitimate concern; in my opinion, that’s moved out of the realm of “wankery” and into the realm of “important discussions worth having,” even when the argument gets heated

Written by Fangirl

February 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Posted in fandom is funny

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