This begins, as it often does, with a tumblr post.
Tumblr user allofthefeelings made a quick little post about power fantasies, framing them as the reason why fandom is the way it is with all these aggressive, fighty people. And I agree and disagree simultaneously. The entire post is so small that I am going to paste it below:
I think it’s really important to talk about how different people have different power fantasies.
For some people, the idea of someone redeeming a villain is a power fantasy.
For other people, the idea of a villain being defeated is a power fantasy.
And for other people, the idea of a character owning their villainy is a power fantasy.
I would argue a lot of fandom conflicts re: villains come from people being unable to see that their fantasies, which put them in control of a narrative (and all three of these are designed to give the author or reader control of the narrative in different ways) are someone else’s horror stories.
Let’s get into it!
Allofthefeelings is correct that different people’s power fantasies contribute to an environment of fandom that’s hostile to people who don’t have that specific fantasy. The thing is, I think that we should build this out broadly to look beyond villains (which I think isn’t an incorrect approach but very limited despite that) to the ways people have, want, and grab for power within fandom spaces.
Fandom – understood as progressive, transformative, queer, generative, feminist, etc – is simultaneously a lawless space where anything goes or else nothing will… and a space where we have to have rigid rules to protect people from everything from actual harassment to mild complaining or criticism in someone else’s space. For the past four or five years, we’ve seen an increase in people longing for the “LiveJournal Era”, a time when people supposedly were nicer to each other and didn’t fight each other over ships.
That era they’re longing for? Never actually existed and it was moderated in ways that continue to be damaging to fans to this day.
This was originally posted on Patreon! Thanks to my awesome Patrons for giving me feedback across the process and helping me use my words effectively to get the ideas out!
Tackling racism in/from the big institutions within fandom – a Big Named Fan with a 20k following, that fan studies scholar with a book and a bad reputation, or the Organization for Transformative Works itself – is scary. They’re huge, they have followings that they don’t even need to actively weaponize against you, and it’s hard to wear down a big rock in your online community.
So, when it comes to figuring out how to handle racism in your fandom communities and make these spaces inhospitable to racists, let’s start small.
Today in “yeah that’s not what that means in fandom” we have… “trauma work”.
I first saw this crop up either in 2019 or 2020 where the response to “perhaps eventually there should be some kind of anti racist policy for the AO3 that would lead to overtly racist works/creators being yeeted from the platform – even temporarily” from an increasing number of people was to claim that moderating racist work was actually “trauma work” and more harmful for fans of color than… the initial issue of unchecked racist work in these spaces. There was a tumblr post about it and everything that picked up steam back then, and then 2/3rds of the way through September, there were several threads spiraled off a tweet doing that again (you can find a roundup of all of that here at Naye’s Dreamwidth).
Here’s the thing… that’s not exactly what trauma work is.
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.