sqbr: She's getting existential again. It's ok I have a super soaker. (existentialism)
Sophie ([personal profile] sqbr) wrote2016-08-29 02:45 pm

The weaponisation of community norms in fandom

So, I've been in fandom a long time and have seen the overall values of various fannish communities shift and change. I've personally been involved in efforts to improve fandom's attitudes towards social justice. But unfortunately it seems like whatever values fandom has in theory, in practice fans tend to exhibit the same toxic behaviours, often entirely opposed to the values they are theoretically upholding. Seeing this happen with social justice has been especially frustrating, but it's always bad, and I'm not sure what can be done about it.

Basically, fans turn any social norm into a tool to attack and silence those they don't like. To illustrate, here's two examples of things fans dislike:
  • people who ship their notp (or like gen, if that's what they hate most)
  • people pointing out them being ableist

And now here's some ways fans twist whatever fandom values into ways to silence and attack those things.

Value: Canon compliance

  • your ship isn't supported by canon
  • being inclusive/not using slurs etc would contradict canon. REAL fans care about canon, not these petty distractions.

Value: Don't be mean/don't create drama
  • Your ship started it, we're just defending ourselves against your meanness.
  • your criticisms are mean

Value: Fandom is about fun!
  • Your ship ruins my fun, and you ship it for boring unfun reasons
  • your criticisms ruin my fun, and prove you are ANTI fun

Value: Freedom of speech
  • Constantly post criticisms in places frequented by those who like the ship, drowning out any positive posts. Make them as upsetting and off putting as possible.
  • your criticisms are silencing me!

Value: Social justice eg disability rights
  • your ship is inherently ableist: it's triggering/sidelines a disabled character/has unfortunate implications about a disabled character etc
  • your criticism is based on ableist assumptions/is triggering/silences those disabled people who agree with me

Some further especially ironic examples I have seen: accurately reflecting the diversity of history/canon is ahistorical/shows you're a fake fan, asking people to stop using slurs is mean, pointing out someone's bullying is creating drama, this ship involving women and/or POC is whitecock, femslash is inherently sexist, m/m is inherently homophobic, anyone who disagrees that this ship is too triggering to be allowed to exist is [triggering accusation].

And in every case the result is "everyone I dislike is defying [community norm] and we should shun them.".

Subgroups will pop up pushing against misuses of one fandom norm...but do so by creating new fannish norms which are themselves prone to being misused. Eg [community profile] fail_fandomanon was created to push back against misuse of "social justice" but tends to misuse "don't create drama"/"fandom should be fun". In general there's usually some equal and opposite pushback that very easily creates a factionalistic situation where people are expected to pick sides, with the bad behaviour of their side dismissed as bad apples and the bad behaviour of the other side held up as proof of this side's righteousness. Cult of Nice vs Cult of Mean, Trigger Warnings vs Creative Freedom etc. And this is all bad for everyone.

I'm not saying all community norms are equal, I definitely think some are better than others. But "which community norms should we value" is a separate conversation to "how do we get people to actually value those community norms and not just weaponise them for the same old petty fannish selfishness".

I'm also not saying everyone does this all the time. Most people who espouse whatever community value really do value it and try to follow it most of the time. But the dynamic I'm describing causes constant, significant problems in every fannish community I've been in. And very few fans are immune from ever engaging in these behaviours. I know I'm not! Often everything gets mixed up together, legitimate criticism with...whatever the word for this is, which makes it hard to recognise and avoid.

It's so frustrating! And I'm not sure what we can do about it. I mean obviously step one is don't perpetuate these behaviours ourselves. And...I guess, when we try to encourage certain values in fandom, use nuance? Don't unthinkingly assume anyone who uses the right sounding words is on your side? Don't think of things in terms of "sides" at all? Add caveats that seem like they should go without saying: "I think this trend is bad but don't attack people for it" etc? Separate fannish feelings from objective analysis?

Saying nothing is not the solution, that just lets the people behaving badly have free reign, and very easily just becomes "don't create drama"/"fandom is about fun" etc. Plus...I'm too opinionated not to complain when people piss me off. Best I can do is try to find ways to make that complaining productive.

A sort of related post that helped me articulate some stuff when it crossed my tumblr dash at the right time. I feel like the geek social fallacies interact with all this too, notice how these rules that are superficially about friendship and inclusion result in snubbing and cliquishness.

A lot of this is just human nature andf it's tendency towards hypocrisy, but it does seem like the obsessive love associated with fannishness skews things.

Anyway: do people agree with my take on things? Any suggestions for fixing this dynamic?

[Also: my e key is acting up so apologies in advance if my comments are a little creative with spelling!]
aris_tgd: Mike Colefield "I just got bit on the neck and could use a hug" (Mike bit on the neck)

[personal profile] aris_tgd 2016-08-29 08:59 am (UTC)(link)
This is kind of what I come up with whenever I see people complain about social justice bullies--I don't think that the social justice bullies are worse than the previous generation of bullies, I think that the language of social justice just kind of... underlines some of the hypocrisy. There have always been bullies and queen bees in fandom and they've always used whatever language is available to try and shore up their power base and attack anyone they see as a threat.'

So that kind of turns the question from "how do we keep people from misapplying social justice theory" to "how do we stop bullying," and unfortunately I don't have any thoughts on how to stop that, either. :/ But I think you've basically outlined the problem as it stands.
jesse_the_k: From "Hamilton" the key phrase "Everything is Legal in New Jersey" (HAM NJLegal)

[personal profile] jesse_the_k 2016-08-29 04:54 pm (UTC)(link)
anghraine: picture of luke; text: my fandom has been whining longer than your fandom has existed (luke [whining])

[personal profile] anghraine 2016-08-29 07:26 pm (UTC)(link)
I agree that it's essentially the appropriation of more or less good concepts for the purpose of feeling superior, more right/righteous. And beneath it all, the issue is "how do we get rid of bullying?" It's hard to think of a community where that isn't an issue.

As you know, I think appropriating actual life-and-death causes and/or accusing people of very real, very horrible crimes is vastly worse than accusing them of being unfun or irrational. I think independent communities, at least, can put policies in place like forbidding accusations of crimes without personal evidence, or having specific areas for restricting certain venting. e.g., On my first fandom website, we didn't really have that, so a bunch of us created a subforum specifically for hating on the LOTR movies so our bitter rants wouldn't leak into the rest of the site. Tumblr anti/hate/critical tags theoretically serve a similar function, but it's too informal to really work effectively.

But part of the issue is that on a platform like Tumblr, there are no independent communities, just loose interconnected clusters that, at best, try to abide by vague and unspoken norms. So instead you get the obnoxious "don't follow me if" or "I don't follow if," etc. It makes bullying in general much easier, particularly as the administrators of huge sites like Twitter or Tumblr rarely enforce their own rules (or do it in a completely arbitrary and inconsistent manner). And I'm not sure there's much we can do about that.
anghraine: from the 2005 p&p: darcy standing at a piano while georgiana plays it (luke [the dark side])

[personal profile] anghraine 2016-09-04 04:27 am (UTC)(link)
I hope it does! I haven't seen anything yet (queued for an invite, lol), but it sounds promising, and I know f_fa is excited about it.

(Do they have icons???)
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