Sometimes, I take notes on the academic work I’m studying or using for articles. Last time, I covered Slash/Drag. Today I’m tackling Samantha Aburime’s “The cult structure of the American anti”, a symposium piece published in a 2021 edition of Transformative Works and Cultures. Following editorial (not peer) review, Aburime’s work has become a dominant reference across fandoms and the “final word” on antis and anti fandom. As such, I feel as though I should analyze the piece and take notes about where it gets things right, where it gets things wrong, and what my reactions are to such a piece and its value to fan studies.
In the interest of full disclosure, Aburime has had me blocked on Twitter from before I knew of their existence and that has been a mutual block for at least a year. Despite that, I provide Aburime with the same amount of academic respect that they approach me/my work with.
Now, let’s start with the abstract:
The online-based group known as antis, which originated around 2016 in the United States, exhibit morality-based, cult-like behavior and perpetuate hate speech and censorship in online spaces.
First, there are multiple errors in the opening sentence. “Anti fandom” as we know it significantly predates 2016. On fandom wiki Fanlore, there’s documentation that refers to people labeling themselves as “antis” (or anti ____) in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom twenty years ago. Even in 2016, this would’ve been an incorrect statement to make if you were only using Tumblr fandoms because in 2012, the “anti Sterek” tag really kicked off alongside tags like “teen wolf fandom problems”, “anti scott mccall”, and “scott mccall defense squad” tags.
Which leads us to the second problem in the abstract… The way that Aburime positions antis or anti fandom as something that exists solely in United States fandoms or fandoms “infected” by “Western thinking”. (Which is in and of itself racist, I feel…)
When it comes to fandom, characters of color consistently receive less fan engagement in comparison to their white counterparts. There are many ways that fans engage with their favorite characters, not just in art and writing, but also through fancams, zines, playlists, or the humble shitpost.After all, someone has to do the hard work of editing Community dialogue onto screenshots of unrelated media. When it comes to fan engagement, it might not stick out in all fandoms, but there is almost always a bias shown in not only the amount of fan content created for characters of color but the type of content as well. Yes, a character may have a decent number of fanart and gifsets when scrolling through their tag on Tumblr. However, this love is often not reflected in the amount of fanfiction or meta within the same fandom.
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.
When we talk about “toxic fandoms” and racism, the easiest example people go to are male nerds mad about Black people being cast to play comic book redheads and other “historically white” characters. However, one little known or talked about example is the way that the Harry Potter fandom from 2005 practically went to war over the one-line reveal that Slytherin Blaise Zabini was actually Black.
One perfect example of antiblackness in fandom that proves false these claims that Black characters and celebrities are just “lacking” something to make them worth shipping (characterization, canon romance, tapping tropes) and that is why no one ships them?
The Harry Potter fandom’s response to Blaise Zabini before and after JK Rowling’s reveal that Blaise was male (2004 in a Q&A) and Black (“He recognized a Slytherin from their year, a tall black boy with high cheekbones and long, slanting eyes” in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Chapter 7: “The Slug Club in 2005).
Blaise Zabini’s only appearance prior to that book and film was in a single line in the first Harry Potter book (““Well done, Ron, excellent,” said Percy Weasley pompously across Harry as “Zabini, Blaise,” was made a Slytherin.). However, people instantly made up all sorts of headcanons for this character based off of a name and Hogwarts house.
For the eight years between Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, here’s all what fandom frequently decided Blaise Zabini was:
Tan (but sometimes pale)
Dark haired with light, sometimes blue or green eyes
Draco’s best friend
A pain in the ass to Hermione
Sometimes shipped with Pansy Parkinson
Sometimes a girl
A bisexual Chad
A cool badass
Occasionally very Gender (and written as androgynous or gender queer/fluid)
He didn’t have any characterization or lines in canon, but he sure did have all of that.
Today we’re doing some note-taking over Francesca Coppa’s “Slash/Drag: Appropriation and Visibility in the Age of Hamilton” in the 2018 book Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies.
when bucky barnes comes out with dark eyes and no memory, i think of myself. of how certain words make me fall back into the places i never want to return to. of how i can’t erase everything that’s been taught to me by the people who hurt me, but i’m trying. that love, above everything, helps me ground myself to the present so i’m not sent tumbling.
Coppa uses an opening quote from Tumblr user Inkskinned that really answers some unrelated thoughts and questions I’ve had about the violence people direct towards people who criticize fandom especially in the context of “comfort characters” – which tend to be white male presenting dudes in canon who are queered and, to an extent on top of that, “feminized”. Inkskinned clearly identifies with Bucky and his trauma is familiar and used to unpack and map their own trauma and responses to triggers left behind. So what happens when someone like Inkskinned – who is probably lovely, I do not know them and did not search them out at all as I did notes – sees someone talk critically (unpacking him or jabbing at him) about Bucky? Chances are… even if it’s privately, they’re not gonna have a great reaction because he has become their emotional support damaged white man.
Why slash? The question has been asked again and again, by journalists in sensation pieces, by scholars in academic articles, and by fans themselves in essays and convention panels and blog posts: why have women created this enormous archive of romantic and erotic stories between male characters from television and film? Why Kirk/Spock? Why Holmes/Watson (retroactively dubbed “Johnlock” in the age of portmanteau pairing names)? Why do we ship Dean/Castiel on Supernatural?
Anyway, moving on from that opening quote, Coppa starts by poking at the question/s asked of slash: Why? Immediately, the whiteness jumps out because in the “whys” are revealed some “why nots”.
Why not Sulu/Chekov? Why not Luke Cage/Danny Rand? Why not Scott McCall/Stiles (or another character if you don’t multi-ship your fandom bicycle)? Why is slash fandom preoccupied with white men for the most part? (This has shifted a bit in the years after Coppa’s chapter was published but a hefty amount of East Asian people – different diasporic communities whose homeland’s source media has become popular in fandom spaces – have spoken about how they feel about the way Western fandom understands masculinity/men outside of their narrow spaces.)
I spent most of the past 36 hours researching and thinking about Harry Potter fandom and the barely still-around documentation of the racism that fandom enacted about characters of color – especially Blaise Zabini. They’ll be turned into organized thoughts eventually, but for now… thread collection:
Harry Potter fandom really has been openly racist for ages because they sure did ship Blaise with Draco and/or Hermione right up until the reveal he was Black and then, after the in-fandom rioting, he got the treatment that most Black characters get and his fanworks/ships went 📉
Near the end of June, I made the mistake of commenting on Star Wars fandom stuff when I saw screenshots of some members of that subfandomgloating about John Boyega briefly losing his blue check/verified status on Twitter as well as kind of assuming the worst about his exit from Rebel Ridge – especially once people started kind of claiming that he was “difficult“. (Like fully going “perhaps he will have his MeToo moment and people will know that he’s truly garbage… like we have all along” in some tweets I glimpsed.)
It is also interesting to note that Glee debuted in 2009, the same year as RaceFail ’09. In many ways, this event, though not engaged with at the same level in all fandom spaces, marked a watershed in the ways in which debates around these issues were framed. While fans who point out the overwhelming whiteness and US-centrism of fan spaces and texts still face backlash, there has been a definite shift in the ways these categories are approached.
I have written a lot about M/M and “dudeslash” fandom practices over my time of thinking critically in fandom because that was, for a very long time, the loudest part of the fandoms I was in, and adjacent to, and the thing I wrote the most as a fan creator. However, that may give the impression that femslash and F/F fandoms do not have the same issues that wider fandom spaces do and that would be incredibly incorrect.
For this Fandom Racism 101 installment, we’ll be talking about how femslash fandoms also suffer from some of the same issues that other fandom spaces do. We’ll also cover some reasons why more people don’t know that femslash has these issues, how we can clock racism in femslash in its most obvious forms, and some examples of how these fandoms fail… alongside ways they can be better about their practices.
It is incredibly strange seeing people say things like “TERFs and queerphobes hate [a specific subset of shippers] the most” and frame themselves as oppressed minority any/everywhere because of what they enjoy writing, reading, and thinking about in fandom.
Not in the context of “consuming and creating queer content that shows nuanced, positive, and/or erotic relationships and dynamics triggers bigots” but just… because they are into consuming and defending supposedly problematic content that happens to be be queer and/or consumed by queer fans at all. (Like comparing the people against them or merely critical of the thing on their own time and at any level to TERFS, Nazis or the people behind the Comics Code, even when, in many cases… they’re actually talking about other queer people who aren’t even talking to/about them when talking about their issues with something in fandom.)
One thing I genuinely hate because of fandom is “[Black Character who is obviously under developed] hooks up two of their clueless white friends and gets them to realize their love”
Because the Black characters are never written out beyond how they can help the white folks. Eve gets Bond/Q together. Sam gets Steve/Bucky together. Rhodey gets Steve/Tony together. Finn gets Rey/Kylo together.
The second I see a story where a Black character is turned into a sassy romance guide for a white ship, I just… get so pissed? Because THAT reduces them/us.
Fandom: We love [Black Character] so much! He’s a fandom favorite!
Also fandom: *really only creates content for [Black Character] that views them shallowly, relies on racial and sexual stereotypes, literally reduces them, and/or uses them to get a white ship together.*
The post on Tumblr currently has over fourteen thousand notes and considering how from the jump people were insulting Holly, accusing her of “a homophobic microaggression”, saying “let women like things”… .it probably hasn’t gotten much better. From John Boyega’s interviews and how he talked about why he wanted to be a producer – this film was his production company’s first outing – we knew that the film was going to probably have a diverse cast of characters.
How does fandom’s empathy gap come into play when the trauma of POC is on the table? Why does the empathy that fans extend to white characters, fans, and performers, hit a hard wall at POC – especially when it comes to Black characters, fans, and performers in my direct experience?
In the Slate.com article “I Don’t Feel Your Pain”, author Jason Silverstein uses the following example as he describes the racial empathy gap:
Let’s do a quick experiment. You watch a needle pierce someone’s skin. Do you feel this person’s pain? Does it matter if the person’s skin is white or black?
For many people, race does matter, even if they don’t know it. They feel more empathy when they see white skin pierced than black. This is known as the racial empathy gap.
The way that non-Black people literally do not believe that Black people feel the same levels of physical pain – documented through over a century of studies – is one way that we see the empathy gap play out. However, this isn’t the way that it tends to play out in fandom because there’s no one out there pricking fans of color with pins to see if we bleed the same color and amount. (Yet.)
But what they do is constantly privilege white feelings over Black ones.