These are my opening statements from earlier today on the FSN plenary. If you didn’t get a chance to see the plenary or you weren’t at FSN at all, here’s my opening comments. Please feel free to ask for clarifications and whatnot. Thanks.
My work primarily covers racism and race in fandom. It actively confronts whiteness and antiblackness – which, increasingly, becomes a multi-fandom bonding activity open to other people of color including Black fans.
Different from many fan studies scholars out and about, I’ve always been actively entangled with fandom on the ground, closer in real time to a reporter thanks to the speed with which I cover fandom practices or dustups. I screencap as second nature, download videos that I sense will be gone by the end of the day, and constantly archive webpages because of the way that modern day online fandom speeds on by.
When it comes to thinking of the “ethics” of fan studies, in the context of what I do, it’s interesting. My work exists in these light gray spaces because of the ways that people simply… do not want to admit that fandom is racist or home to bigots. As a result, they’re simply not going to give permission for me to archive their work or report on their bigoted social media posts, fanworks, or fandom trends. The person tweeting about how “Black people in fandom are entitled” isn’t going to sign off on me including the tweet in my article. The Korean rapper talking about how he doesn’t need to care about Black fans/people on Instagram isn’t going to let me download that video and repost it. Bigots generally think they’re in the “right” and anything that confronts their truths – even in supposedly progressive spaces like fandom – will be seen as violating boundaries.
Social media is incredibly public. In 2021, fans aren’t a protected or hunted class on the internet – at least, in most English language fandoms – and their public posts aren’t protected from being spoken about or discussed. Fan studies scholars like everyone here and fandom journalists like Ashley Reese – and people blending those practices of journalism and academia, like myself – aren’t skulking in the shadows and sneaking behind locks and blocks to get information on super niche fandoms. There’s nothing unethical about talking about and showing proof of what fans are doing for themselves and to each other in public – especially where bigotry is involved.
Conversations about ethics in fan studies – especially by fans who don’t understand the field and scholars who aren’t in the thick of fast moving, very reactionary fandoms – often miss what the relevant ethical issues in fan studies actually are in 2021. Fans are focused on maintaining their privacy and their “safe space” even in the middle of conversations about how these spaces can be unsafe to other more/differently marginalized fans. And then, many scholars are focused on presenting fan studies to fans as an inoffensive celebration of what it means to be a fan in order to maintain their access to fandom spaces. This is because fans often eye fan studies with an air of suspicion over being “studied” despite how celebratory and purposefully inoffensive much of the fan studies output across fandoms tends to be.
So, what are the actually relevant ethical issues in fan studies as I understand them? Fan studies ethics primarily orients itself around protecting fans and our subjects in fandom. What does that mean when we talk about bigotry in and from fandom? What rights do bigots in fandom have and how does protecting them, implementing “caring” for our subjects, become about preserving the white, cis, sometimes-het centric status quo within fandom?
At no point should we violate boundaries – going to locked accounts you don’t have access to as a fan should be a no-go regardless – but… we need to rethink what ethics mean in a world where bigotry has always been part of fandom… but is increasingly integral to the fandom experience.