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