OTW Guest Post: Mel Stanfill

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.

Mel Stanfill is an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida with appointments in Texts & Technology and Digital Media. Stanfill’s work examines the interaction of media industries and everyday people through the lenses of fandom, law, labor, heteronormativity, and whiteness. Today, Mel talks about a recent article in Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), “Where the femslashers are: Media on the lesbian continuum” and an earlier guest edited issue of TWC, Fandom and/as Labor.

How did you first get into fandom and fanworks?

I want to say by Googling, but it was before Google so it was HotBot or AltaVista or something. I was 13 or so and really liked Xena: Warrior Princess and went looking for information about it, and at some point in that searching I found fanfic and became an avid reader.

Then, when I was in college, some of the scholarship I was reading (specifically, I was assigned Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s The Culture Industry; they—understandably, because they were refugees from Nazi Germany—thought that the media controlled people) was directly contradictory to my experiences in fandom, and that’s what got me interested in doing research about fans and fandom.

You guest edited issue 15 of Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC) in 2014. What was that process like?

I mean, it was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun.

My co-editor Megan Condis and I had been talking about labor as an area of inquiry that hadn’t really had sustained attention for a while. Then one day we just sort of went from the idea to actually doing something about it and proposed it —- and TWC editors Kristina and Karen agreed that it was important.

Then all these great articles came in and we got to read the cutting edge of research on the topic before anybody else, which was pretty cool. Even better, we got to help make it even better through the review process.

It was really just very intellectually gratifying all around to see this thing go from an idea that we had -— and we were both grad students! -— to a complete, finished thing that is now out in the world getting cited. Also, I cannot speak highly enough of Kristina and Karen’s work as the infrastructure of the journal that is the foundation for any special issue. We were pretty green at that point (again, grad students) and they really helped us accomplish the undertaking.

Issue 15 was about fan labor. Are there things you’d want to include in it today that are different from what you focused on 3 years ago?

Oh, so many things have happened since then that have changed the landscape. Even the Veronica Mars Kickstarter was too late for there to be a full article about it, which was why we asked some people who had written blog posts about it (Bertha Chin, Bethan Jones, Myles McNutt, and Luke Pebler) to do an informal conversation about it just so that we didn’t not address it.

And then, so many other things have happened that have labor implications, like The 100 actively manipulating their LGBTQ+ fans to keep watching and promoting the show, and Star Trek issuing those extremely restrictive fan film rules. Plus the increasing interest in race in fan studies, which is actually pretty important to labor, isn’t something we got a submission about. I think that we probably would now.

But, that’s sort of the hazard of academic writing -— the world moves much faster than it ever can.

Do you think your article on femslash readings of media is also quite different in 2017 than if this had been your focus three years ago?

Well, at the most basic, the argument is so informed by picking up Alex Doty’s Making Things Perfectly Queer again that it’s very different than it would have been in 2014. I had read it previously for my doctoral exams, but I didn’t pay close attention or something because coming back to it in the summer of 2015, because I was going to teach it, struck me in a whole new way and gave me this new perspective on femslash.

Then also, between 2014 and now I noticed the pattern that drove the essay -— that some shows are femslashier than others. It’s pretty standard that boyslash dominates all fanfic for the vast majority of media objects. It’s less common for shows to be heterosexual-story dominated, but it still happens relatively often. But it’s really very rare for femslash to dominate, and that wasn’t something I had been thinking about until more recently.

How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?

I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn about the OTW until after learned about TWC. That’s an occupational hazard of being an academic, maybe. That said, I’m actually not sure exactly how I did hear about it.

Regardless, I see its role as being an institutional advocate for fans. People cycle in and out of fandoms, and we lose a lot of institutional memory -— like people today not having any idea why older fans or older fics use disclaimers. Having the OTW as that institution that supports things like Fanlore and that brings different fandoms into a space where they might interact helps with that sort of thing. Also, obviously, the advocacy work the OTW does, like the DMCA exemption process every 3 years, is tremendously important as an institutional thing that needs institutions if it’s going to happen. Just generally, fandom needs institutions -— we need a fanworks repository that’s not beholden to advertisers or individuals’ finances; we need an academic journal that is not beholden to the academic publishing industry; etc.

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

I don’t know about inspired per se, but I was pretty impressed by how successfully Lexa fans organized after she was killed on The 100 last year. Like, they understood Twitter so well and leveraged it so well and donated all that money and bought billboards in Burbank and it was really a pretty big thing to pull off. It tells me that as much as my research is about these creeping forms of co-optation of fandom to serve industry’s ends, there’s fight in the old girl yet.


Catch up on earlier guest posts