Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode.
For Episode 17, See Different Possibilities: Alternative Relationship and Economic Structures in Fandom, we discussed the following texts:
1) Fan podcast – Be the Serpent: You and Me and Our Boyfriend Makes Three
I learned a lot through this discussion especially since I’m not familiar with the communities and cultures they describe. Balanced triads – each person is in a relationship with the other two people; V relationships – one person is in a relationship with two people who don’t have relationships themselves. These queer relationships are about love and not reproduction. All the people in the relationship offer different perspectives and strengths and skills to each other. They also have a different notion of family from normative nuclear families. Found families is an important concept.
In the episode they talk about the fanfic genre of OT3s (or one true threesomes) and how different kinds of polyamorous relationships are depicted in fiction and real-world media. In fandom, OT3 is like OTP (one true pairings) with threesomes – the pairing of threesomes that you love best in fiction.
In fiction, OT3s work best in longform mediums like TV shows and book series where there’s more time and space to explore different facets of the relationships. Alternatively, in fanfiction, you’re creating an alternative canon based on a fictional world someone else has created.
Examples of potential triads include Harry Potter, The Hunger Games (lots of YA!), and Star Wars. Imagining polyamorous relationships opens up the potential for so many different kinds of relationships rather than the Team Edward/Team Jacob debates of yore.
The fact that these representations seem to be predominant only in fanfic and not in mainstream media means that most people – young people and adults – can’t imagine other ideas of being in the world. Even I only encountered polyamory a few years ago on a dating app.
The hosts point out the absence of this in speculative fiction particularly. They believe that SFF doesn’t build alternative family and relationship structures for the most part – only economic and political alternatives. The two person family/romantic/sexual unit is the default which you would think speculative fiction has so much room to explore. In 2020, you would think there would be more explorations of relationships especially in fiction to reflect it becoming more mainstream in the real world.
Is polyamory a queer thing, a millenial thing, a generational thing? Where is it more acceptable as the norm and where is monogamy the default? The norms hurt certain groups of people so they step out of these normative structures to explore other kinds of relationships and families. Seeing representations of this, as with other marginalised cultures, helps both the dominant and marginalised cultures – to understand themselves and others better.
2) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds: Fan Fiction (Don’t Judge)
(I’ve already used this episode as a text for Episode 4, so I’m supplementing the notes I made then with these new ones. For the old notes, click here.)
Fanfiction fills such an important need in terms of representation which is absent in mainstream media – particularly fic written by fans from marginalised groups.
Fanfic is an example of communal writing where betas act as voluntary editors of fic. There’s also implications on the intersections of class, fanfiction and gender. So much time and labour are offered for free. This happens for love of the work and the community but people also need to pay the bills. On the other hand, capitalism wants you to commercialise everything and some things are just for the fun of it.
They talk with Francesca who more recently has been at the centre of online controversy in the midst of the Black Lives Matter discussions on Twitter and her and AO3’s complicity in racism. Fanfiction can be progressive and inclusive towards certain groups but hostile towards others – queerness and gender is centered but race is othered.
I like that fanfic offers a space for these alternative stories and perspectives and cultures which defy the normative dominant ones, but I also wish it wasn’t the only space in which these stories thrived. Fanfic isn’t accessible to everyone even on the internet; you have to discover it yourself. Mainstream media can also be inaccessible but more accessible than fanfic.
Fan entitlement – fans may not have institutional power but they are now able to respond to the media and critique decisions. Can fans influence mainstream decisions? Is the new Star Wars trilogy an example of fan or media company feedback?
3) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds: Fan Fiction (Special Edition)
(I’ve already used this episode as a text for Episode 4, so I’m supplementing the notes I made then with these new ones. For the old notes, click here.)
“Women like the show too much and in the wrong way”
What’s wrong with fanfiction that focuses on a lot of sex and romantic relationships? It’s a perfectly legitimate form of expression and exploration of self-identity. Fans are writing/reading things they’re interested in which centres their perspectives and desires in ways which mainstream media doesn’t.
What is taboo in fanfiction often differs from what’s taboo in mainstream fiction. This is also historically contextual and can change. For example, slashfic, real person fic was taboo but now less so within fandom. Wincest – incest fic in Supernatural might be considered taboo in mainstream and possibly even in fandom.
Archive of our Own was started by fans to own the platform where they wrote. They designed the structure and software from scratch. However, the initial group of co-founders had their own blind-spots and biases which undergirded the framework of the website which has now become such a mainstream space for fanfic online.
4) Fan podcast – Verity!: Fanworks Round Table
Definition of fan works differs based on different perspectives and interpretations. Fan works take any elements from the original fictional world and play with it – inspired by or based on any piece of media. I think fanfic is a huge topic of conversation within fandom and mainstream conversation and even fan studies. I’m more interested in critical commentary such as fan podcasts and even Tumblr posts or other social media posts which analyse characters, worlds, events, themes etc.
As one of the hosts points out, mainstream media seems to discover fanfiction anew every few years in a way that is vaguely if not outright derisive. They point out that slashfic used to be very taboo. Even fanfic itself used to be seen as something shameful. In mainstream minds, there’s a stigma against fanfic where it’s perceived to only be about sex; a view which is exacerbated by mainstream media critics and hosts who find and highlight the raunchiest examples of fanfic they can find. I don’t read a lot of fanfic so only know what’s normative and marginalised within that space through research I’ve read which in turn is also subjective and reflects a limited number of experiences.
Now, less people seem to object as much as they used to and fanfic seems to be more acceptable and accepted. It’s increasingly more from a sense of curiosity and sometimes even attributing their own interpretations which don’t take into account the nuances and complexities. For example, KPop fandom disrupting Trump’s rally being celebrated without including/understanding the prevalence of anti-blackness and racism within the KPop fandom. In slashfic, m/m slash is more dominant than femslash or slash featuring characters across the gender spectrum. Perhaps this reflects the lack of these representations in media. Or it reflects the hierarchy of marginalisation even within seemingly progressive spaces. Can things like fan podcasts push back against this marginalisation a little bit maybe? Especially those which foreground an intersectional analysis?
5) Fan podcast – Our Opinions Are Correct: Can We Survive Capitalism?
Can we survive capitalism is a superbly pertinent question especially these days of the pandemic! Even India is becoming more capitalist from a more socialist country and the results are awful. Whose lives matter? Whose comfort matters? Who needs to sacrifice for whose comfort? Over-consumption is a way of distracting people from what’s actually going on in the real world including issues of social, political and economic justice. Overall, people are blind to where your goods and your food comes from. You don’t have the context in late-capitalist societies. This is true in India too where even small rural societies are impacted by capitalism. Development projects like dams, canals, electricity, water, mining cause millions of people to forcibly migrate. At the same time, people in urban areas don’t think about where our services come from.
Capitalistic structures prevent class solidarity. Current example of this during the pandemic where a person tweeted their disgruntlement about going to work for Amazon when others were getting money for staying at home (hbomberguy’s response pointed out how much money Jeff Bezos makes every day) – pitting the marginalised groups against each other to prevent coalitions.
Commodity fetishism exists in science fiction too with illusions of branding and advertising. Dystopias seem to deal with class warfare and exploitation more than other speculative fiction. The Hunger Games features oppression through divide and conquer. There are examples of class warfare in Game of Thrones too and social uprisings in Star Trek and Doctor Who with the Ood.
How does speculative fiction imagine alternative economies? How does it imagine capitalism? What are the different economic and social systems in SFF which are an alternative to capitalism? I just don’t know of enough examples, I think. They describe how in Star Trek, it’s seemingly a post-money economy but not everywhere in the universe. Star Trek features a post-scarcity society, a sort of socialist utopia where people aren’t obsessed with things and have gotten rid of basic human needs. A post-scarcity society implies endless resources or immortality.
As one of the hosts points out, we can’t seem to imagine a post-capitalist society without some miraculous invention/system which takes care of current issues and needs. Does that make it more unrealistic or just real in fiction? As the same host points out, we have enough resources now but those resources are concentrated in the hands of the very few rather than being redistributed amongst other people. Are there examples of this in fiction? Does this seem more unrealistic than a magical solution? Utopian and dystopian post-capitalist worlds seem to be the norm – not worlds in-between who have eliminated some needs but not all.
Capitalism and colonisation – stealing resources from a group of people and using them to create more wealth only for a certain group along racial, class, gender lines or in science fiction, along species lines. Capitalism and environmental destruction – unsustainable production and pollution. Thinks like fast fashion and food – who pays the social and environmental costs for things like this and who benefits? Capitalism as an unsustainable system where you’re growing and growing and at some point you need to stop; same with environmental destruction. But we’re fobbing off the problem for the future even though it’s impacting people terribly all across the developing and developed world.
During the pandemic, the idea of essential service workers changed but the class dynamics remained. Those who could afford to be in jobs that allowed them to work from the safety of their homes heralded those who had to put themselves into danger like NHS doctors and nurses or dismissed others like supermarket workers – all in a way which doesn’t involve radically restructuring society to benefit the ones who do the most important work in society. The false idea of meritocracy is still the dominant ideology which guides us.
Labour which isn’t acknowledged or paid in a capitalist society include parenting, emotional labour. The costs of the pandemic are impacting women’s work more than men. A better way of capitalism would compensate people for educational labour, healthcare labour, and caregiving labour accordingly instead of paying people who do so little so much.
How do we imagine worlds beyond capitalism?
One of the hosts thinks we still have ages to go before we topple capitalism as an economic system – which makes it even more important to imagine alternatives in our fiction so it’s something which seeps through to mainstream consciousness. This reminds me of the Accidentally Left-Wing Twitter account which presents some of these “dangerously radical” ideas such as abolishing rent and tuition and healthcare costs and universal basic income – ideas which essentially seek to protect everyone and provide them with the tools to live their best lives. Even things like access to parks, food and money in the UK during the lockdown – will post-pandemic speculative fiction address this collective trauma in ways which explore the class imbalances and imagine alternatives which bridge the gap?
6) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper: Magic, Wealth and Power with Vic James
Vic James talks about her own books where magic is a form of wealth and wealth inequality. Magic is concentrated in the hands of the 10% of society and the remaining people have to give ten years of their lives to contribute to their society through physical labour. There’s an unequal distribution of power, which James believes is similar to mortgages and student debt. People are locked into economic relationships born out of necessity not choice. The story came to the fore in the wake of the Occupy protests as well as her own concern about her personal lack of wealth and a grim future. She drew on the history of inherited wealth and class imbalances in British society. There is now a new form of aristocracy where wealth now is completely locked away in offshore bank accounts from the context in which it was created. There is no circulation of wealth to boost the local or national economy only to boost individual self-worth.
Access to education also depends on class. Class can’t be seen devoid of other contexts and intersectional identities. What sort of work gets you a lot of money? Not artists even though art is so important to so many people – something you see during the pandemic. The conversation draws connections between SFF and the real world in ways which make sense to current contexts. The rich keep getting richer sounds like a cliche but it’s true and ever-present and seemingly insurmountable. Lack of awareness about the impacts and causes of wealth inequality means that average people are seduced by the wealth and power of the elite because they don’t see the source of the conflict in their lives. They want to join the elite without realising they’re closer to being destitute than enormously wealthy.
7) Fan podcast – Woke Doctor Who: Captain Jack Sex Jesus
Jack offers a sex-positive representation in a mainstream children’s TV show like Doctor Who. Jack was Eugenia’s first encounter with such a positive representation of being open about and enjoying sex. As a first-gen Chinese-American, she didn’t encounter these ideas in real life. Jack offers a representation of a pansexual man who is attracted to men, women, other species
Jack is from the 51st century so the labels for gender and sexuality that limit us today no longer exist then and are more fluid and flexible as seen in Jack. This idea takes advantage of a sci-fi show and all the potentials it offers. There are different conceptions of bodies as well. Jack makes an off-the-cuff remark of being pregnant once and doesn’t go into it. This can signal new possibilities in future worlds where technologies overcome present limitations where only trans men can be pregnant, not cis men. What does time and space do to the human body?
Need representations of alternative relationships and family structures in children’s media as well. Jack has a found family in Doctor Who and another one in Torchwood. The mere presence of diverse sexualities and families in children’s media doesn’t require adult supervision just like the mere presence of heterosexual couples and normative families doesn’t. It can allow children to imagine and accept different ways of being in the world.
Absence of representation of polyamory or alternative relationship structures when you’re young means that you won’t be able to articulate your own desires or imagine another way of existing in the world.
“Polyamory advocates honest, open, inclusive and egalitarian relationships between multiple partners.”
Consent, knowledge, and communication is important for all relationships but so much more important in poly relationships. Idea of poly relationships in mainstream imaginations is being all about the sex (just like fanfic) and lack of commitment. But poly relationships require deep commitment and may not always focus on sex. What about ace/aro poly relationships? Poly relationships share similarities with monogomous ones – setting boundaries and open and constant communication. However, poly partnership is about both emotional and physical needs and require people to be mindful, self-aware, and self-reflexive for it to succeed. Even though it’s becoming more mainstream, it’s still a marginalised culture (though more people are open about it now, at least in my encounters).
“This open and expansive interpretation of love and relationships may not be for everyone. It requires a great deal of self-exploration and constant communication. Whether one agrees with polyamory or not, it is difficult to dismiss the essential pillars it is built on. For good communication, generous love and equality among partners are worthy goals in any relationship.”
Polyamory challenges societal conventions, norms, systems and expectations because they don’t work for you, particularly the imbalanced power structures in most traditional relationships. Poly relationships offer a way to get different needs and desires met without placing the burden of these on a single individual who may not be able to fulfill these. Co-habiting and raising children with different partners is an unfamiliar family structure but people can make it work.
“People who practise polyamory can create families and that is a proven fact,” Ley said. “Is it more difficult? Maybe. Because there aren’t many examples out there and they face stigma. However, things like co-living, parenting or long-term plans can benefit from polyamory, because you are likely to have a support network and a community and not just rely on one person to do all this with.”