fandom and its relationship to critical theory
September 26, 2013
i don’t spend that much time writing meta about teen wolf. but i have spent a great deal of time writing about glee (buy my book on season 3 if you don’t believe me). now. there are so many different ways that glee is incredibly fucked up and oppressive. i can’t really say if it is ‘worse’ than teen wolf. they have different problems.
one of my fav meta writers on glee often says that we are not owed ‘responsible’ storytelling. and… to a certain extent, I can see the point. since, yeah, it would appear undesirable to say that all media/creative works must conform or comply with some moral code or another. this could/would certainly stifle creativity.
but does this mean that creations are exempt from criticism? no. does it also mean that every single time media fails we ought to call it out? yes.
from a certain perspective, it would be great if some people realized that meta/criticism on a certain creative work is, in actual fact, also participating in the ‘fandom’. those of us who with to interrogate and examine the harmful and oppressive messages communicated via a creative work are part of the fandom. and this is one way we choose to engage it. moreover, we perform a necessary function within fandom and this is doing what we do: deconstruct and lay bare the oppressive structures/ideas/etc. expressed by a creative work.
It is necessary since (and i’m being very charitable here) even if most or all of the fandom people (and i mean those who participate in any function or manner) understand that hey, queer people of colour are not props for straight people (see teen wolf) or maybe not every Black woman has to be fat and sassy (see glee), perhaps not everyone in the audience does (if we can draw some kind of distinction between ‘fans’ and ‘people who just watch the show’). It is especially necessary when you can see, in fandom created derivative works, that, hey, not everyone in fandom actually perceive which messages are harmful and which aren’t. Or maybe they can see some issues (like misogyny) but cannot perceive others (like racism).
the way that some areas of fandom respond to critics like me always strikes me as bizarre. Like. we were all forced to take some kind of literature class in grade school, yes? criticizing creative works has been an integral part of engaging those works for a very very long time. and, sure, the manner and method of criticism largely depends on the person and there are many strands of critical theory… but, um… like do people not really understand that this is a real and legit way to engage creative works?
and, speaking now to fic writers or other creative fans, i take fic seriously. it is all i’ve read for almost 6-7 years. i think fic and fandom communities and how this all happens online is amazing and revolutionary in ways that people often do not understand because they dismiss this as a silly, inconsequential ‘hobby’.
But when i see people writing entire fucking novels, creative all new, innovative archiving software (AO3), I take it very seriously. that you have critics is a sign of the health, vigour, and importance of what we all do. and, importantly, most of the time (for me at least) i talk about either the source material (canon) or the fandom generally, rather than criticising individual creators or specific stories.1
what fandom does matters, not only because the actions and ideas within a fandom have real and actual impacts on people’s lives (positive and negative) but also because people spend countless hours producing and engaging in fandom for the sheer love of it. and that is amazing. and it is also something worthwhile enough for me to spend time criticising it. not because i hate it, but because i believe in our ability to live in a better world.