Why It’s Not Safe to Come Out of the Fan Closet

I made reference in our last post to the list of Do’s and Don’ts that was making the rounds at the latest Supernatural Convention in Chicago. Posted in very public places – elevators and bathrooms – it was designed to make sure everyone took note.

Photo by Elizabeth Sisson

We’ve seen it happen before. Admonishments on how to treat the talent. The instructions on how to behave circulating before Jensen Ackles’ appearance in A Few Good Men (these included tips on how to dress for the theater as well as how to conduct oneself in a theater – no whooping and whistling please), the audible groans whenever a fan asks for something – a hug, any special recognition – and the hissing and booing that accompany any and all mentions of what fans do (fan fiction anyone??)

Whether or not we needed to be told not to ask embarrassing or uncomfortable questions of that weekend’s guests begs the larger question – whence comes the odd phenomenon of policing the borders of fandom? And why doesn’t anyone ever instruct us on how to treat each other?

Fan conventions are the proverbial safe space, or at least we like to think of them that way. A place where we can all let our inner geeks out, secure in the knowledge that no one will point, no one will judge, and where our passion for our favorite television show doesn’t need to be explained or worse – defended – yet again. We’re free to wear our “Winchesters Rule!” tee shirts with pride and affection. We all get it.

Expect for the part where we claw each other’s eyes out.

And so I ask, borrowing the words of a frightened and annoyed Mick Jagger standing on the stage at Altamont, trying to calm the chaos, “Brothers and sisters! Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting?” Our own utopian fantasies about the nurturing, empowering arena of fandom nothwithstanding, there seems to be a fundamental need to take sides that plays itself out here as it does everywhere else. Team Edward vs Team Jacob? Sam!girls vs Dean!girls? Exclusionary fan communities are the norm, but it’s one thing to toss people out of our virtual sandboxes and quite another to exclude fans who are in the same very large room – telling them, to their faces (or as close to that as an exchange with a poster in a rest room allows) that they are potentially not the “right kind” of fan. Not that there’s anything like general agreement on what the “right” kind of fan is.

Fans can\’t even agree on *what* to be ashamed about — not liking fanfiction, liking the wrong kind of fanfiction, being too obsessive, not being obsessive enough.

My own theory? Fan shame. Even as we embrace our inner geeks, we are banishing them, telling ourselves that we are not that fan, that we have a better grip on reality, that we’re not as over the edge as that woman over there. The fact that we’ve all traveled, sometimes hundreds (or thousands) of miles, to be close to the objects of our fannish devotion, that we all line up for the autographs and the photo-ops, and that we’re willing to pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for the pleasure does not seem to matter. The fan stigma is strong and distance is the only viable option.

We all know about fan shame. Many of us may have even experienced it from time to time. Fandom Secrets is teeming with it. Even the media is slowly starting to catch on. The shame of the Twilight fans (don’t snigger!!) has made it into the mainstream press.

You’d think, in the face of all the judgment we experience from the outside, that we’d all be rallying round the fan flagpole, watching each other’s backs. Fandom is, unfortunately, full of judgment self-directed and otherwise.

So my question to critics is, how are we being empowered by something we’re so ashamed of? And my question to fans is, why are we so critical of something that should be empowering us?

9 thoughts on “Why It’s Not Safe to Come Out of the Fan Closet

  • And my question to fans is, why are we so critical of something that should be empowering us?

    Oh, heck, I could write a book in response to that question – although I probably won’t because I’m a lazy slob!

    So here are my theories. There are a number of f actors in play.

    I think that the answer to the question – to put it simplistically – is that fans are people, and in this fandom, predominantly women. People like to belong to ‘clubs’ or groups, and they feel more comfortable when those groups are small enough that everyone is known, making it easier for the members to feel loyalty. This leads to the barriers going up between the ‘club’ and the rest.

    Then we have the fact that most of us are women. Women have always been dirtier fighters than men. They don’t support each other as well as men do in a competitive arena. They are more competitive, sneakier etc. If you look at women in industry you’ll see what I mean. Fandom merely reflects the way women behave because fandom is – for the most part in this context anyway – women.

    Also, it seems to be human nature to feel better about oneself by pointing at someone else’s shortcomings. That’s why there are so many blonde/irish/newfy/polish jokes around. I am just waiting for the fangirl jokes!

    I think that Supernatural fandom in particular challenges a certain number of belief systems. Wincest crosses a lot of boundaries. (I have an icon on my journal that says, “In my fandom, RPS is the moral alternative!”) and there are people that can’t deal with that – so there you have barrier number one. Then you have those folks that can’t deal with slash for whatever reason. If it’s a squick, then it is. I personally don’t find it a squick, but to some people the whole concept of homosexuality is an abomination. Each to his own, I say, but I am far less likely to hang out with such a person! So that’s the second barrier, and Show is already up against it, with two things to squabble about.

    Add into that the human factor – not everyone likes everyone. For that one person that got the hug there are thousands of us that didn’t. Jealousy creeps in, and then when that silly person at the mike asks a question that we just KNOW (rightly or wrongly) is going to make our OODs uncomfortable, well, that just adds to our fury!

    Some of us are generous to a fault; others are not. Some of us just go for the hug because we suddenly find that we can; others wouldn’t dare. I could go on, but you’re probably sleeping now.

    Like I said, I could write a book… or maybe I should leave that to you guys.

    • You’ve touched here on one of the problems that we’ve been having with theory from the start. To *just* read that, and not participate – to not get down there in the trenches with the lovely people and the dirty fighters, and the squicked, and the unsquikable (if that wasn’t a word before,I declare it is now!) – leaves one with the impression that fandom is a perfect, nurturing, egalitarian place. Unicorns anyone? From Enterprising Women onward, scholars have been perpetuating this.

      That said, I still don’t get the disdain with which some fans treat others at the same fan convention. And I say that as someone who has felt that disdain herself.

      • Oh, honey, I’ve felt the disdain too, and for the same reasons. It always hits hard, but belief systems are one reason for looking down on others. It’s one I don’t understand, other than intellectually, but it’s all too real.

        I don’t believe that fandom is worse than anywhere else for this behaviour. I believe it merely reflects the world in microcosm. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it feels.

        And unsquickable is totally a word.

  • lol at the person who can’t spell ‘gross’ correctly on this. http://fangasmthebook.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/shame22.jpg

    As for being ashamed of our fangirlism…. I can’t be lol. I was a total otaku for anime/manga/japan etc before SPN, so this kind of fandom is nothing to me. I don’t have any problem proclaiming my fangirly tendencies to anyone. I’m a David Tennant fangirl first and foremost though. Ever since Casanova. I have a ‘Corner of Tennant’ in my room. It’s awesome.

    I didn’t even know what a slash fic was until it was mentioned in ep 18 of season 4 SPN. I didn’t particularly like the idea at first…. still don’t read much in the way of fanfics. Mainly some Destiel ones.
    I think… if you told me about Wincest before I watched SPN, I probably would have reacted the same way Dean did in S4E18 lol.

  • Hi there,

    I’d heard about you two before, but I didn’t know you had a blog, that’s so great! (got here through Alice Jester)

    I’ve been eargerly awaiting for your book. Is it something you already know when it’s coming out?

    I love to read anything I can about this fandom… (so far In the Hunt and few online articles – I’ll browse your archives and welcome any suggestions you have!)

    It’s the 1st time I’ve ever been a fan (real fan) of anything and so it’s all fascinating to me. Maybe all fandoms are but I only know this one!

    I mostly avoid all the forum fighting, but of course I’ve seen it out there…

    As for the real life kind of in-fandom (?) fighting, I went to my 1st con this year, the Chicago con (all the way from Rio de Janeiro!). It felt crazy. I didn’t dare tell most people I was doing it and while I was there I kept thinking “am I really this person that goes to a con and gets autographs and photo-ops?”. I’m still processing it, lol

    But I stayed mostly with just a few people and didn’t really expose myself to other fans all that much. I came back thinking it was a shame that being so jet lagged I couldn’t stay up partying and meeting people, but after reading this article I think it might have been for the better!

    You can count me as a frequent reader from now on 😉


  • I don’t know, I’ve only been to one convention (the first Eyecon)and I didn’t have any disdain directed at me — or I just didn’t notice it if somebody was — and I wasn’t disdaining anybody myself. I was somewhat taken aback by some of the stuff going on. I’m not much of a joiner for group activities and anyway, I was there with my family so we were kinda doing our own thing.
    But I have certainly noticed some of that on LJ in particular – and it seems to me that the clique-y-ness is like the Mean Girls in Middle School –tearing down others to build themselves up made possible and perhaps necessary by a certain lack of empathy for the other person’s feelings.
    I also think anonymity plays a big role especially online and even at the conventions most people are away from home, so people don’t ‘know’ them and I think that frees up behavior that maybe wouldn’t be indulged in RL.
    See in the linked article — its not just the SPN fandom that’s mean. I don’t know if that makes it better or worse.

  • This is exactly why, when I’ve considered the possibility of going to a convention, I back away. I’ve watched many videos of the conventions and heard the snarky comments made by the people who are filming, the groans and comments when someone asks a question they disapprove of. I understand that’s only a part of the fans who attend. Jared and Jensen make a constant effort to encourage “family” and unity and treating each other well. The beast that is humans in a large group still misbehaves, and I would hate it if the pleasure I get from the SPN experience was ruined by people with an attitude I thought I left behind in high school.

  • Compelling post with two questions at the very end your books obviously explore both directly and indirectly. I certainly have learned a ton between reading a couple of the books, a fair amount of posts on this web site as well as the comments offered on the posts thereafter. The fandom for the Show is I believe quite unique indeed. My familiarity with fandom has pretty much been restricted to sports teams until now. It has been quite the education educating myself on the immense depth of the conviction and extensive variations of expression the Show’s fan base puts forth.

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