The concept of “critical consumption” seems to kick everyone’s ass in fandom.
Let someone know that you think that critical thinking and reading should feature at least a little bit in how they engage with the content they consume for their fandom – source media or fanworks – or how they create it and you can expect a whole lot of incredibly angry people acting like you’ve just told them you want to burn every single Arthur/Eames age-gap omegaverse story on the internet.
Or, you know… they call you an anti for using your brain.
From what I understand, critical reading and thinking in fandom are seen as a gateway to full on (self) censorship. To a lot of people, recognizing the problems with a thing they like in media and/or fandom means they can no longer like it.
If you understand the issues with something, then you can be expected to never interact with it again.
And so, when someone else points out the problems in the thing (like racism, male gaze, or misogyny for some examples of media/fandom nonsense), the response is this quivering rage-chihuahua barking out of “how can you say that? Why are you telling me to hate the thing I love? Why do you hate women/queers/some POC?”.
However, that’s not what most people advocating for critical reading/thinking in fandom and of media are truly asking for.
It’s a purposeful, panicked misreading where critical thinking and reading become an “anti” thing and people reject careful engagement with a thing – even to the point where they can no longer subvert it. But again, it’s silly to assume that doing critical thinking or even a critical reading of something in media and fandom means you can no longer like the thing or work on it.
By that logic, I would delete all of my Omegaverse stories the moment that I clocked the actually upsetting anti-choice, pro-purity politics (virgin omegas as an unaddressed standard) of the trope. I would’ve actually never got invested in Korean pop or hip hop because I was seeing blackface sketches from idols from before I got in deep.
And, because fandom’s approach to critical thinking/reading involves a fear of actually engaging with a problematic text or something created by a figure that needs a stern yeeting (at best)… I would’ve probably flunked out of grad school where we covered Batailles, de Sade, the bastard lit theorists who I hate. But I couldn’t just… stop reading the thing that I hated in graduate school. I couldn’t just say “well this has zero value so I won’t devote brain power to unpacking it”. And that’s really what it’s like elsewhere.
The idea that critical reading automatically ends engagement with a problematic thing is… wrong.
Yes, with some things like slavefic I did say it’s a thing I wanted, but it’s been three years since that particular piece and I have come to appreciate nuance in engagement with other fucked up, fucky things*. I’ve learned that I can dislike something, see its problems, and… keep it moving. I can also like a different fucked up, fucky thing and keep my interest going without making that thing my entire personality either.
(* not stuff with sexy nazis or whatever, sorry. Still not into that!)
It helps you find the loopholes in the fucked up thing that allow you to engage with the fucky aspects of it without hurting others.
If you understand why something hurts other people or where people criticizing it are coming from, you can dodge those dark spots, provide effective notes/tags, and/or firmly redirect people who’ve taken the wrong thing from your fanwork in either direction.
Critical thinking isn’t “anti tings”. Media literacy is good, actually.
Oh, and critical thinking and reading can help you become a better fan, a better creator, and a better person.
- The “Critical Consumption” week in this free online course for building digital skills
- UMBC Magazine’s “How To Be a Critical Consumer of Media”
- NEDA’s Tips for Becoming a Critical Media Consumer
- How to consume media critically in the age of streaming services
- Common Sense Media’s list of resources to encourage critical thinking and evaluate media
- Make it a Habit: How To Consume Media Critically and Carefully
3 thoughts on “Applied to Fandom: Critical Consumption/Analysis”
This is a wonderful piece! Thank you for your critical thinking… on critical thinking lol
Is it okay if I ask what sort of nuance there was for slavefic? Not judging or accusing- I just want to understand better! And what sort of other “fucky” things have you seen (other than the horrifying experience of seeing sexy nazi stuff)?
So other people of color – largely Black people, but not only them – have spoken to me about their experiences and interests in slave fic. A lot of them talk about like… Past experiences with trauma, trying to understand desires that they can’t speak about, and histories in their family/under white supremacy. It’s a hard limit for me in 2021 and it’s still not something that I can engage with from most people, but people have taken the time to talk about what they’re getting out of it and why they post what they post. So that’s been very interesting and helpful to helping me understand their thoughts as other people of color, and again, often other Black people specifically, who like this thing that bothers me. And other things… So I’m *super* into MADK and Tokyo Ghoul and I guess like… That sort of gore-heavy cannibalism content? Neither thing have active fandoms but there are OTHER fandoms that graft the content onto their source media and I love it… But cannibalism is genuinely horrifying, you know?
We’ve talked about this before, but I think people have a really hard time with the concept of doing/liking something that’s problematic and thinking that makes THEM problematic. The “you did something racist = you’re a bad person” equation, right? So, instead of “oh, crap, I did something racist, I need to take steps to rectify that and do better,” the response becomes “that couldn’t have been racist, because I’m a good person.” But here it’s, “Harley Quinn is my fave, so her story isn’t at all a problematic cluster of domestic abuse storytelling that occasionally gets looped into bad-girls-on-bad-girls are Teh Sexeh written by mostly cishet white dudes with momentary glimmers of legitimate characterization/female empowerment, because that would mean I’m a misogynist.” And like…except it doesn’t work that way. Our brains respond to all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons and MAYBE one of them is “we’re wrong about” but often it’s “this hits some kind of pleasure center, and I can acknowledge that there are problems with it and STILL say it makes me happy.” (There are obvs exceptions to this rule. Sexy Nazis, anyone?)