Hello and welcome to This Week in Fandom, the OTW’s roundup of things that are happening. This week and last, events in fandom have largely centred on the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests and demonstrations taking place within America and around the world against racial injustice and police brutality. Racism and particularly anti-Black racism is a problem in fandoms and in fan studies as in other cultural spaces, so in the latter part of this roundup we wanted to share with you some of the links and resources that we’ve come across over the past week or so which provide ways to think about how these dynamics operate – as well as related content on the ways in which fandom can provide a space or a launchpad for activism.
First, a host of actors from fan-favourite media properties have been protesting for Black Lives Matter over the past two weeks and speaking out about their experiences: Kendrick Sampson (of How to Get Away with Murder and Insecure) wrote for Variety about police violence at the protests in LA; Halsey made a lengthy Instagram post about her experience protesting in the same city; and John Boyega’s appearance at the London Black Lives Matter protest prompted a cavalcade of Twitter responses to his statement that he ‘didn’t know if he’d have a career after this’. We also saw pop culture informing protestors’ activities, as Spiderman dropped in on protests on the Manhattan Bridge, and graffiti declaring that ‘Matter Black Lives Do’ appeared on a statue of Yoda outside Lucasfilm headquarters in San Francisco.
On Twitter, one fan (who asked to remain anonymous) went viral with a video drawing an analogy between the demonstrations and the climactic scenes of Avengers: Endgame, offering another example of the ways in which protest can intersect with transformative work.
Given this intersection it’s not surprising that the past two weeks have seen plenty of conversations around fandom as a site for activism, focusing not only on Boyega’s involvement but on the highly visible participation of K-pop fandoms online. This fan activity has included spamming police watchdog apps, as well as tags linked to white supremacists, with gifs and videos of K-pop bands, and has been followed by statements and donations from some major K-pop players (including, notably, a $1 million Black Lives Matter donation from BTS, which was subsequently matched by fans). Praise for both fans’ and idols’ activities has been complicated by input from longtime members of K-pop fandoms who have pointed out that these fandoms are themselves also sites of racist discrimination. Articles by Abby Ohlheiser in the MIT Technology Review, and Natasha Mulenga in Teen Vogue, start to unpick some of these difficulties.
As Casey Fiesler pointed out in a Twitter thread full of references and resources, fan activism has been going on for a long time. But the topic was explored anew in ‘We the Fans’, an article posted this week both on AO3 and on the Pop Culture Collaborative blog. In the piece, Shawn Taylor writes compellingly about ‘tactical fandom’ – ‘fandom as social practice for social good’. Exploring previous fan campaigns against racist, misogynistic and other discriminatory elements in media properties as well as within fandom itself, Taylor makes a case that fandoms are in some ways uniquely qualified to organise for good: “who better,” he asks, “to initiate change for a better society than those who spend a great deal of time reimagining worlds?”
Thinking about making change for a better society, conversations about race and racism have also been taking place this past couple of weeks in spaces devoted to fan studies; the academic discipline that concerns itself with fandom and to which the OTW’s journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, is devoted. A thread from Fan Studies Network North America provides an opportunity to consider this issue, with links to a series of resources which deal with race in both fandom and fan studies. One of these is the 2019 issue of TWC on ‘Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color’, which includes articles on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, amongst many others, and which can (like every issue of TWC) be accessed for free and in full online. Further Twitter commentary from transcultural fan studies academic Lori Morimoto argues that one way to think differently about both fan studies and fandom is to substitute the cosy idea of a fandom ‘community’ for one that sees fandoms as ‘contact zones’ (a term originated by Mary Louise Pratt): “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power”.
A sense of these ‘asymmetrical relations of power’ can be gathered from the Black fans who have been speaking out this week about their own experiences, in personal pieces including this video from Diverse Tolkien, which talks about how fellow fans can support Black women in their fandom spaces.
We know that amongst the readership of TWIF there will be plenty of fans who want to use this moment to think and learn more about the ways in which racism affects the fandoms in which we invest so much of our time and our emotional energy, and to start or continue work on making a change. We also know that there will be plenty of readers to whom none of these ideas are new; and who are constantly compelled to deal with these issues, whether they choose to or not. So we’d like to include a final link here to a different kind of resource; Black Nerd Problems‘s list, posted this week, of selected Black movie and television content to ‘channel your rage’, ‘motivate’, and ‘remind us of presence and life’.
This post has been edited to remove references to the work of Stitch and Rukmini Pande, which they have requested that the OTW not cite in this context.