If you’re online and in fandom, you’ve probably heard of Goncharov, the faked/lost Scorese film from 1973 that folks on Tumblr dreamed up a few days ago. Gizmodo’s Linda Codega calls it “the greatest mafia movie never made”, describing the Goncharov “phenomenon” as “an exquisite corpse of collective unreality, all kicked off by a fake movie poster made by Tumblr user Beelzeebub, based on a photo of a knockoff merchandising boot.”
The idea of the collective unreality and fandom coming together to imagine parts of the same thing in a unit is pretty cool and it isn’t new. Fandom has always made things. We had all of the different “hot” versions of the little pyramid thing from Gravity Falls. We had “the solar system as hot people”. We have a uniform characterization of Eames from Inception that is solid despite being barely supported by anything in the film.
Fandom is all about creating something out of nothing – or very limited materials – and dreaming up new things at the same time. It speaks to how creative fans are when they choose to be… which is pretty darn creative most of the time. In some directions.
The issue, for me, is how that creativity works. How the collective (un) conscious of fandom cannot dream bigger, darlings. How fandom cannot ever stretch their imaginative muscles in ways that incorporate Black/brown people as the leads, the blorbos. The center. Who is capable of being imagined.
It begins with the aforementioned poster by Beelzeebub. The poster, which is great, I mean excellent work… obviously has no people of color on it? It’s representative of a Scorsese film from that era and that means… there aren’t going to be people of color front and center. So we have a made up film that in its imagined unreality does not have any people of color present because of where they started from. (But then also, could you have this sort of imagined unreality build up around a “lost” telenovela? A Nollywood family drama based off of an error in a document? Like people, even from those communities, cannot extend their limits.)
Fandom is doing what fandom does. I am unsurprised, but annoyed. Obviously.
Then we get to the imagined discourse and the meta. There are two things at play here and they both piss me off.
First, is the way that people are seriously speedrunning through entirely made up discourse about a movie that doesn’t exist. Meta on Tumblr and Twitter, serious analysis of this imagined film. RIght down to both “this is racist” and “how can you say this is racist” playing out in social media posts I quickly glance at and then scroll away from in my daily five minutes on Tumblr. It is frustrating because what is roleplaying for them – roleplaying “people who care about media and fandom” – is a thing that gets a lot of us harassed.
Second, is the fact that we’re already at “oh man having an opinion of Goncharov is anti behavior” stages for pointing out (or wanting to point out) that this is an example of the beige blank slate principle in progress. Imagine being called an “anti” for noting, correctly, that fandom is doing what it’s always done but to an even more obnoxious extreme because those white men they’re making into their blorbos don’t… exist.
I’ve already seen multiple people – fans of color, entirely – have to wrap their criticisms of fandom making the most out of literally imagined white men with “I’m not trying to call anyone racist/say liking Goncharov is racist” so they won’t be harassed.
But that’s the thing… What else would you call both an inability and a refusal to imagine people of color in your collective unreality?
I keep thinking about the Richard Pryor quote from the 1976 album Bicentennial Nigger where he says:
“I don’t like movies when they don’t have no niggers in ‘em. I went to see, I went to see Logan’s Run, right. They had a movie of the future called Logan’s Run. Ain’t no niggers in it. I said, well white folks ain’t planning for us to be here. That’s why we gotta make movies. Then we be in the pictures.”
This to me is fandom… To an extent. Because fandom can dream up these incredible worlds, amazing stories… all primarily populated by white characters, with some light skinned POC as love interests or stereotyped to hell secondary support. Fandom cannot and clearly, as evidenced by years of inactivity, does not want to imagine Black/brown people as the front runner for their fannish empathy and engagement.
They are not planning for us to be in “their” pop culture, their fandom. We’re told to make our own because we won’t find a “safe space” for our creativity or our identities where they run free and wild.
But then where it diverges is that when we do create our own as we are repeatedly told to…we get heat for “leaving out” people who’ve never imagined us as main characters.
Fandom not only refuses to eat up our content and make our Brown/Black blorbos their own… they kinda… harass the shit out of us for daring to interact with the world on our terms and create content that focuses on us/ours rather than on white characters. This happened with the first Black Panther film and its fandom. It’s probably happening again.
So fandom cannot imagine us organically… but also it cannot allow us to engage with that realization on any level. We can’t be a little annoyed about the fact that fandom likes to make up new white guys without being called “antis” and subtweeted. We can’t focus solely on Black characters in our own work without getting rude comments about “alienating” the most widely represented kind of fan in fandom.
I saw a tweet that was like “there’s a powerpoint where the OP calls Thai BL series Kinnporsche a Thai Remake of Goncharov and people believed it” and several viral-ish tweets that mention that Goncharov has more fics on Ao3 than many other fandoms for things that actually exist. And the thing is like… this tells us what fandom cares about in the broadest possible scale? Kinnporsche is both mega popular and googleable. Almost all of the series people were naming for having less content than Goncharov involved Brown/Black people or queer women.
Like… this is saying volumes about fandom priorities and people simply… do not care to spend a second being introspective about themselves and their focus, almost entirely uninterrupted, on white people/characters/histories… and (fake) film histories.
Goncharov is and isn’t that serious. It’s literally not real. But its development and the breathless engagement it gets then peel back several layers to ongoing issues and annoyances I and many other people have with fandom’s largely unbroken fixation on whiteness. Starting with how easily fans make up different white men to be annoyingly overprotective over while quietly thumbing their noses at the idea of ever giving a shit about Black and Brown characters.
3 thoughts on “On The Limits of Fandom Imagination and the Collective (Un) Reality Around Goncharov”
I mean this is the reason many a times when we get a leading Brown/Black protagonist we do so many things to keep them relevant. I cannot ever get over how they really butchered Korra’s narrative in Legend of Korra and still continue to do so in the comics. The whole PTSD arc then stripped off its very impacts and like constantly being abused and belittled is something that makes me cringe. I actually love Catra’s journey more in SHE-RA where Nate Stevenson did show how Catra has been abused and even neglected at times by Adora. They never erased the fact that Catra, a lesbian WOC, was always marginalised in favour of the blonde princess. This made me love the show more as it showed this truth. Hmph, fandom has issues.
I feel like people are using the fact that this is the big collective joke – the fact it’s a fake Scorsese film – as an excuse to not confront the limits of their imagination. It’s the perfect (/s) thing, since it’s a community made joke instead of a corporate piece of media. But it reflects what they like within corporate fandom spaces: homoeroticism focused on white men. Considering they struggle to consistently include the white women they’ve created for the sake of “Token Lesbians™” (there to look progressive, but really just to be like “we’re not misogynist, look women”), I doubt they’d even give a second thought to ever making WOC as a central focus. This is the latest of many tumblr fan creations that lean very white, cis, and straight sized – any deviation doesn’t seem to be tolerated. Feels like Tim Burton’s remarks about black people “not fitting his style” – black and brown people absolutely fit in these styles, and I’d love to see a Goncharov-type thing centering black and brown characters (especially black and brown women).
But here we are.
[…] I am absolutely delighted about Goncharov (1973), and I think you will be too. It is, however, another illustration of how much fandom loves to invest emotions in white characters and whiteness. […]