December 18, 2018 — December 15, 2023

collective knowledge
game theory
social graph
Figure 1

The colour-saturated, light-and-motion-heavy, infinitely-engaging world of popular fiction franchises consumes far more attention than its real-world, physical impact would imply. And yet, the acreage and population of the many imaginary worlds we share is vast for all that it is ethereal. Perhaps that ethereality is precisely why fandoms figure so large in online culture wars; in the realm of the imagination, the primary tools, the primary weapons, are words. We are all very puissant in imaginary battles. Our shared imaginary worlds offer subcultures diverse freedoms, and host diverse theatres of proxy war for real world powers.

Oh and yes, for all that we talk about imaginary worlds, mass media is a big industry, and a forge of social ideals, so it is not like these things are wholly decoupled from impact.

I am not a documentarian-of-record for fandom, nor an expert interpreter. It is a far better documentarian of itself than me. This is just a pointer to some interesting corners, and corner-cases, of interest to me.

1 Fanfic

AO3’s 15-year journey from blog post to fanfiction powerhouse is a great slice through the movement as it happened in my early adulthood:

Primarily written by women, and often featuring erotica and / or queer relationships, sexism and homophobia both played a part in its denigration. Coppa, who hosted archives at the time, would sometimes have to delete stories at the request of its writers, who feared retribution in their jobs or relationships. “I would get frantic emails from people saying, ‘I’m going through a divorce and my husband is going to take my fic and tell the judge I’m an unfit mother and try to take my children. How fast can you make me disappear from the internet?’”

Coppa herself felt pressure to keep certain aspects of fandom secret. At a talk she was giving about fanfiction, an audience member pressed her: weren’t there people writing about Kirk and Spock having sex? “I remember taking a breath and saying quite consciously, ‘Yeah, there is, and it’s amazing, you should read some.’ And it was the first time I had ever done that. It was the kind of thing we all skated around.” She had nightmares about her fanfic costing her tenure track at the college she worked at and would frequently imagine how to defend herself against a hypothetical complaint about her having written sex scenes.

“But the only way through that is to lean into it,” she says. Though she still sometimes has people imply fanfic writing is a strange hobby, she responds differently. “‘Are you dead inside?’ is sort of my answer,” she laughs, comparing it to hobbyist painting, music, or knitting. “‘But isn’t some of it erotic?’ Yes. Yes, it is. It turns out women have a sexuality.”

Fanfiction is of course thirsty, as is much of fandom, and there is interesting crossover to pornography. Mind you, what part of human life does not have occasional crossover with porn?

2 Petri dish for culture wars


2.1 Online hate groups

The example of hounding Kelly Marie Tran out of social media because she played a character in Star Wars is a nicely cut-and-dried example of fan mobs hound people on explicitly racist grounds.

2.2 Racefail

2.3 Isabel Fall

The “I sexually identify as an attack helicopter” incident.

2.4 Ownvoices

Interesting case study in several things The OwnVoices Movement, policing who is allowed to portray which identities in their creative works.. Who gets to define authenticity, and appropriation? Connection to institutions for angels, movement design, models of inequality.

“Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during horrific and life changing times, like the AIDS EPIDEMIC, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?” Jackson’s stated belief, that stories about marginalized people should be written by authors of the same identity group, is a common one in YA fiction. It’s also the central ethos of a movement known as #ownvoices, which aims to improve diversity in the industry by matching authors to subject matter. It’s not hard to see why it caught on: What better way to improve the representation of marginalized authors than to have them write what they know—or what they are? Who better to capture these stories than someone who shares an identity with the main character? Not only would the books be more diverse (the logic goes), but they’d be more honest, too. But in its present form, the impact of this movement on the landscape of YA has turned increasingly toxic, leading to callouts, controversy, and cancelled books—often for the underrepresented authors it was supposed to help. And no author learned this lesson more harshly than Jackson. His debut novel A Place for Wolves, was set to publish March 26, but was cancelled for not being #ownvoices enough instead. The main character in A Place for Wolves is gay and Black, like Jackson himself. But none of that mattered when an online reviewer accused the author of appropriating a setting—war-torn Kosovo in the 1990s—that he wasn’t qualified or entitled to write about.

3 Incoming