Between the Lines: Fandoms, Social Media, and the Politics of Being a Fangirl

Anyone who’s been in fandom spaces on the Internet in recent years has, to some degree, had a similar experience. You’re either drawn straight into the mess of ship wars, call-out culture and drag posts on various forums on the web, or you find yourself passively scrolling past the discourse to get to the fanart, fanfiction, and Spotify fan-mixes that make you cry. Whatever side you find yourself on, the truth is that fandom is worth talking about.

The sweeter truth of fandoms is that they are intended to be safe spaces for us to invest well-earned time away from the real world into the lives of the characters we choose to be in love with. Fandoms, historically, have been a space predominated by women, in which we are free and able to share ideas, write cringe-worthy fanfiction, and be passionate about storytelling. To some degree, fandoms have become a sort of sub-cultural phenomena.

There’s a particular way fandoms interact with each other, between conventions and cosplays, that could be mistaken for cults. But the bitter truth about fandoms is that they have the capacity to turn very nasty. Investing that time and energy into the lives of fictional people and  fictional stories can quickly blur the lines between reality and fiction, and between ship-wars and invasion of celebrity privacy, it’s not uncommon to find that fandoms can turn into sickeningly toxic places.

But it would be kind of hypocritical to be writing for a place called Fangirlish whilst saying fandoms are unhealthy spaces. They aren’t always. And, perhaps, it’s even fairer to say that while it’s impossible to expect fandoms to be without fault, it is usually a smaller subsection of the fandom that tends to be “problematic.” (We’re using the lingo!). Perhaps the funniest thing is that people seek fandoms as a way to indulge their interests without being policed for them, and in some ironic twist of events, it’s become the nature of fandoms to police the interests of participants.

Why, though, is my question. When did the right to enjoy a story become a competition for who knows the story best? When did writing fanfiction become a test of how politically aware your ideas are? When did fandoms start becoming breeding grounds for anger, when did we start using what should be a creative space as an excuse to “call-out” fans who enjoy canon differently?

To some extent, I believe fandoms are a reflection of the world around us. I believe that fandoms, though once meant as an escape, have now become almost as stressful as watching the news. And just like the news, one is likely to blame any unrest on the expectations of “social justice warriors” who insist on “politicizing” stories by demanding “representation”. Just like the news, none of that is true. The truth is that fandoms are increasingly in the hands of call out culture, they are becoming intolerant of the messes they came from: the minds of waking artists learning the truth of storytelling, it is a painfully worthy task to tell a good story.

The next four weeks are going to be devoted to discussing fandoms, the nature of our interactions with one another, the inherent cooperation that fan-made spaces require the community it forms, and the importance of good storytelling in the creation of these spaces. Since the inception of fandom spaces, they have evolved into something completely different from what they began as. And so, we venture forth into our next territory: how do we make fandoms better places? Why do we love fanfiction so much? And finally, why is it that Chris Evans is the one thing everyone agrees is good and pure?

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