From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.
Keidra Chaney (Publisher/Editor, The Learned Fangirl) is a writer and editor. She’s written about music and culture for Chicago Sun-Times, Paste Magazine, Time Out Chicago and Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture. She’s especially interested in online fan communities and the intersection between fan works and labor. Today, Keidra talks about how The Learned Fangirl began and what she’d like it to get back to.
How did you first get into fandom and fanworks?
I can go back to childhood and point to moments that counted as fan participation even though I didn’t really know it at the time or identify it as fandom, officially. My mom and I would watch the Original Series of Star Trek and Next Generation on the weekends together, have conversations and what not. My mom’s not into fandom in any formal way but that really started to get me into fannish activity and behavior. I’d write little plays, do fake radio shows and parody songs and what not.
In high school I wrote these long, involved stories — what would now be called Real Person Fanfiction – about all the rock and heavy metal musicians I was into but this was the 90s, pre-Internet (at least for me) so I wrote them in a spiral notebook and shared with a friend, who also wrote her own. We’d just pass them back and forth to each other and to other friends. Again, this was pre-media fandom, at least for us. I didn’t grow up in an environment where we knew about zines or cons, etc. But what we were doing counted as fanworks.
Later on, I got into contemporary media fandom in the early 2000s because of an anime show called Gundam Wing. I participated in message boards and wrote some parody fic for that show and Dragonball Z. I always considered myself fandom-adjacent, or maybe fandom omnivorous, because I always juggled being into a bunch of fan related things at the same time and never really getting super into fanworks for one specifically.
For me, I’m very interested in the idea of fandom and fanworks creation being a space for not only personal and identity self-expression, but a way for people to push some of their creative limits in a community, a space where they don’t have to worry about formal, commercial evaluation. Of course, that’s changing a LOT these days with fandom being embraced (to an extent) by commercial entities, but I think the heart of that is still there.
How did you become involved with The Learned Fangirl?
I started The Learned Fangirl back in 2007 with Raizel Liebler. It’s funny because I am not sure if either of us remembers why we started it, or the very moment where we decided to really make it an official thing. I’m a journalist with a grad degree focused on cultural/media studies. She’s a librarian with a law degree, and we are both into fannish activities on varying levels. We started TLF when we were both knee deep in anime fandom so a lot of the early posts focused on that, and we were both students of cultural studies and law.
We had a lot of conversations that at the time, very few people were talking about: intellectual property and fan works, the ethics of fansubs, who gets to own and claim the history or canon of a TV show, stuff like that. We started writing academic papers and presenting them at conferences and we didn’t see ourselves as fan studies scholars, or “acafans”, but just people who were interested in the intersections of all these things we loved.
I think one of the big things that really convinced us to move forward was hearing Henry Jenkins talk at a conference at MIT called Media in Transition. That really got us thinking more about what we could say or contribute in this space.
Now we write about a lot of varied topics, but we try to take a very “slow take” approach to what we publish. We have a fantastic games writer, Kristin Bezio, who writes about games and the industry of games in a really thoughtful, critical way. We have a regular series where three women into Game of Thrones on different levels have a conversation about the latest episode. We do a lot of book reviews on fan studies and scholarly pop culture books. And we write about comics, cosplay, obscure TV shows, you name it.
Where do you hope to see the site go?
Just this year we got a fiscal agent (Independent Arts and Media) and some grant money, so we are paying for feature writing and longer essays for the first time, which is very important to us.
So much has evolved so quickly when it comes to fandom, writing about fandom/pop culture and especially digital media and we’ve taken a very slow approach in our growth, which is honestly why I think we are still here doing this.
I honestly don’t see what we do as digital publishing, in that I don’t want to get in the biz of putting out daily content and having to worry about huge pageview volume for survival.
I see TLF as an incubator for ideas first, as well as a publishing entity. So just creating a space where fans, fan scholars or whoever is interested in writing about fan culture and pop culture in a critical way, can have a space to do that without having to worry about clicks for survival. Like we’re happy if a piece we publish eventually becomes something bigger for another publication or a book or whatever. That would be awesome as long as the writer remembers us!
We’re partnering with a couple of libraries in the Chicago area to do some workshops about “critical thinking and writing about pop culture.” We’d love to do more of that with other organizations, to do that kind of outreach, because that’s important to us as well.
As a black woman, I’m very interested in trying to fill the gap when it comes to critical fan studies writing and pop culture writing about the histories of marginalized groups in fandom. And as someone who’s into smaller fandoms, I am interested in publishing the stuff that doesn’t always have a home elsewhere because it’s not hooked into a current event. I like to say to people: “If you have an slow take essay you’re afraid to pitch because you think only 3 people will understand what you are talking about, it may be for TLF!”
I’d also like to see us go back to our roots a bit more and publish more articles about intellectual property, ownership and the political economy of fandom. Even now, with all of the fandom focused writing out there, we don’t always see a lot of that.
How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?
We actually heard about OTW around when it started. I found the post we did when it was announced. (I notice that it was back when our editorial voice was a little snarkier.)
I think OTW plays a role in creating an infrastructure for those who create fanworks and for those who study fandom and fanworks, especially since there’s still not a whole lot of broader understanding about the history of fan culture and fanworks, even as it’s become something much more recognized by the mainstream. OTW plays the role of advocate, information resource and virtual/physical space. Especially as things are changing so rapidly in fandoms, it’s good to know there’s a consistent space preserving fan history.
What fandom things have inspired you the most?
I’m always impressed and inspired by the speed and effectiveness of fan campaigns to call attention to issues of representation and diversity, like what’s happened with The 100 fandom, or online abuse and safety. I love what @blackgirlnerds is doing to really create a community for geeks of color.
There are so many fan film, comic and podcast creators that I admire that I could not even start to name them all, but just the culture of multimedia fan creation is so big, diverse, and sophisticated now and there’s a real community of creators supporting each other. It’s really great to see, and so many people are creating such inspiring work!
I am a huge music nerd and I always think music fandom is not focused on enough. I think some of the k-pop fan blogs and YouTube videos are some of the smartest music commentary I’ve seen. They have an understanding of the music industry that would rival what a writer at Billboard or Rolling Stone would know –- and they are a lot more entertaining!
There are companies that would kill for the reach and influence that these fan creators have, and often the people behind it never get the credit they deserve for being skilled and savvy digital organizers who understand not only the industry, but the social factors that make online media work. It’s such an exciting time to be doing fanworks –- frustrating too on a lot of levels, but I’m also excited about the diversity and creativity of what people are doing!