… admit no mistake, do not make yourself vulnerable to others, always be on the offensive, don’t admit to character flaws or weakness. We are taught that if you do, you will suffer the consequences for years. We are taught, through example, that if you admit mistakes and are vulnerable, others will exploit these weakness for their own fannish benefit.
I’m writing this entry mostly in response to a series of tweets by Ben Parr, a writer for Mashable. Our perspectives differ because of our place online and our own experiences. I’d love to believe “@BenParr @purplepopple My philosophy has always been “let the haters come,” because I believe in what I do and prove it with my actions.” I believe in what I’m doing. I believe in it a lot. I’m committed to what I’m doing and am always looking for ways to improve. I just do not like to publicly own my faults because I just have moments when I can’t because I’ve seen what fandom haters are capable of. I don’t just don’t have the energy to deal with the ramifications of the shit that could come down the pike if some hater took issue with me.
Check out some of the shit that Cassandra Clare, Supernatural fans, Smallville fans, Blake’s 7 fans, X-Files fans and science fiction fans are capable of. Contacting employers, contacting family, threatening to kill people and talking about how they deserve to be sexually assaulted, cracking passwords, contacting webhosts to report them for alleged Terms of Service Violations, contacting a show’s producers and actors to blast them for another set of fans’s actions. Most of the most egregious behavior doesn’t get documented out of fear of both sides going after the document-er for getting the story wrong.
I want to characterize these actions as fail fandom but it isn’t. Fail fandom is generally about some one taking offensive at something some one did or said or implied. Sure, yeah, the subtext of fail fandom is often about a power play in fandom but at the onset, it generally doesn’t look that way.
A lot of this is really banal stuff. Do you ship Clark/Chloe? Well fuck you. I hate your ship with a fiery passion. You’re in my space. Let me find some ways to cause you pain. Hey! You wrote Supernatural incest fic? I hate that crap! I know what to do! You made the mistake of linking your real name and your fannish name so I’ll contact your family and let them know what you are up to online! Oh hey! You challenged my status in the Harry Potter fandom and I need my status to be higher so I can be closer to JK Rowling. Let me teach you a lesson, because I know you work in school, by letting them know what sort of material you read. It doesn’t matter that I read it too because I don’t work with kids. You like Doggett from X-Files? That’s unforgivable because MSR is the only good thing from X-Files and because you’re too stupid to get that, I’ll just do a DDoS on your network connection. I want the freedom to write sexually graphic rape because of artistic freedom. You don’t like that and hey you’re a rape victim? Awesome! Because you know how you tried to repress my artistic expression? I’m going to intentionally trigger you! Those examples are all variations of real incidents.
And then we come back to the first part of this post: Media fandom on LiveJournal (and its clones like Dreamwidth Studios)teaches us not to be vulnerable, to self criticize, to admit to our weaknesses. In some places, in some communities, you want to admit and own your weakness, your vulnerabilities and where you can improve. I’ve found that in the wiki community outside Wikipedia, this generally is the norm. On Twitter and in social media communities filled with social media professionals, it is also good to be able articulate those. Fandom differs to a degree though. In a wiki, we should all be working towards a greater good. In social media, you want to be honest with your clients, to be continually learning and you’re aware of the professional repercussions for being an asshole, and a moron that engages in personal attacks on people outside of the scope of the content. Fandom doesn’t have those considerations of greater good or professional gain.
Fandom has other considerations because, for most of us, fandom is a hobby. People have goals for fandom: Having fun, getting feedback on their stories, enjoying the porn, being fawned over for their most awesome fanvids and fanart, writing extensive meta analysis because they love to do that, to fantasize about Eli Roth getting off on your nudie pics, trying to get a professional publishing career, using their fanac as a vehicle to meet actors and producers, trying to influence the writers and directors and actors to write the book or show like they want it to be written. Some of these inherently set fans into conflict with each other. If you are in a fandom to get close to the powers that be, well only so many people can. If you are in a fandom because of a character, actor or ship, there is only so much time that those can be given; people with different preferences are going to be in conflict as they try to persuade producers to focus on their desires. For fan fiction writers and readers and vid watchers, there is only so much time in a day, only so much feedback that can be given; conflict happens in the struggle to maximize the feedback and to support our favorite artists. The greater good in fandom only seems to happen when there is something that threatens the institution around which the fandom is based like a show ending.
Because of fandom existing as a state of conflict, because LiveJournal fandom is dominated by women, people bring in the personal and unrelated. The attacker looks for vulnerabilities. They look for places where they can exploit your weakness in order to push you out of fandom, to get you to stop being in conflict with them and to further their own agenda.
That’s my takeaway from fandom. Those are the lessons I have learned. So while I think it is good to be able to articulate your weakness in social media, as a journalist, as a historian, as an entrepreneur, I have trouble with that because I cannot unlearn overnight what I spent over ten years learning and having reinforced on a daily basis. (Thanks White Collar fandom and Smallville fandom for this week’s lesson.)