Hell's Half Acre (hells_half_acre) wrote,
Hell's Half Acre

Meta-Fandom discussion: Heteronormativity and "activism" in shipping

And now for something completely different...

Over the course of the past week, claudiapriscus and I have been having a discussion on tumblr. When we had come to a satisfiable end, claudiapriscus thought it might be nice to document the discussion and post it on LJ and see what other people thought.

The discussion started off with us complaining about the tendency in some fandoms to "woobie-fy" the villains, rather than be disgusted with their evilness... but it then moved into us discussing other fandom trends, like using queer relationships to double-down on heteronomativity, or the trend towards associating yourself with being an activist for queer representation when really you just want to see pretty boys kiss.

We also briefly discuss LJ vs. AO3.

This isn't usually the sort of thing I would post, because I do get really critical of a large portion of the fandom here... but, on the other hand, because I usually don't talk about it, I AM interested to see what happens if I do.

(Spoiler warning for Thor, Avengers, and, especially, Thor 2.)

Original Topic of Discussion: Unpredictableevil/hells_half_acre reblogged a photoset of Loki from the beginning of the Avengers movie and a meta arguing that there was evidence that Loki had been tortured by Thanos, and may be acting against his own will (or with a broken will) in Avengers. One of the subsequent contributors to the meta mentioned that Joss Whedon often layers his work and that they wouldn’t be surprised if the evidence of torture and implications of that torture were expressly intentional.

claudiapriscus reblogged the photoset from unpredictableevil and added: Whedon likes his layers on layers, but he talks about them too. I doubt he’s on board with woobie!Loki. You know what the gifset leaves out? All the looks of sheer pleasure he gives when getting on with the murdering and maiming.

And the conversation evolved from there...

unpredictableevil: I think it’s a mix. The best villains are grey - able to arouse both sympathy and disgust.

claudiapriscus: I think that already exists, though. I mean, you have the first movie, Loki’s massive daddy issues, the fact that he thinks genocide is a good way forward to resolve his daddy issues…Thor 2, where out of petulance, he aids the attackers, leading to the death of the mother he does care about, which then makes him angsty and full of grief-rage, but still doesn’t stop him from what…removing/killing (?) Odin and replacing him? Plus he’s charismatic. I think the tendency in fandom to want to make him into a torture victim who is acting out of fear arises from the desire to whitewash away the fact that he is a villain, and has earned his villain status. Especially because it doesn’t add to the sympathy/disgust thing; it just provides excuses to get rid of the disgust.

unpredictableevil: Oh, I completely agree. I mean, granted Thor 2 is after the events talked about above - and I haven’t actually seen Thor 2 so I can’t speak to it at all…

But yes, there’s a disturbing trend in all fandoms to turn villains into woobies that they can love and pity instead of actually address how they’re horrible people.

I wasn’t speaking on behalf of those people - I was just explaining what I personally thought and how this discussion supported part of that headcanon [of the best villains being able to arouse sympathy as well as disgust].

I think you can be a torture victim and still be a horrible person. I mean, seriously, if Loki wasn’t an amoral idiot having a temper tantrum, he never would have ended up as a possible torture victim to begin with. He would have just said, “Oh, so, I’m adopted and my dad’s an ass. But hey, at least my brother loves me and is pretty cool - and I’m treated like a prince and all. Could be worse!”

claudiapriscus: Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to jump down *your* throat or anything- I know you’re not in that category. I may have just spent a little bit too much time searching through the MU tags (poor comics fandom, it’s been totally swamped, there’s no distinction between universes) recently and it’s kind of a hair trigger reaction.

I don’t think there’s been a fandom where I’ve liked the source material and some of the fic so much and yet had the general tenor of the fandom annoy me so much. AU hardly has any meaning. I mean, I guess it makes sense because they are movies and thus there isn’t the constant reminders week to week of where canon actually stands, but still.

Also, random thought: have you ever noticed how very same-y fanon is, when it starts going that way? Like meta-fandom. So many of the uber fluffy Sam/Gabe (and Dean/Cas, or even wincest, I guess) falling into the same dynamics and tropes as say, so many of the fluffy MCU slash.

unpredictableevil: No worries. I completely understand why it’s a spot of annoyance. It’s also a spot of annoyance for me - or, better said, a spot of “I am quite disturbed by this trend.”

Also, it must be super annoying for the tags to be swamped with MCU stuff - it’s why I attempt to remember to tag all MCU stuff with “MCU” in the hopes that people will have a filtering extension set up and can blacklist that tag if they just want to hang out in the comics world.

I don’t participate too much in the fandom, but I have noticed that fanon gets same-y pretty quickly. You can basically just interchange the names in some stories and no one would bat an eye. Tropes are tropey, and there seems to be these standard archetypes that people cling to - and cling to so hard that they’ll deliberately change characters that don’t fit into those archetypes and then insist that they were like that the whole time.

I’m sure I’m guilty of it too though - I do have my tropes that I cling to and characters that I prefer.

claudispriscus: Lies and more lies. I’ve read your fics, and you fit the tropes to the characters. I care less about the tags here on Tumblr, because hey, it’s all good, but the tags on Ao3 drive me mad. Basically anything in the marvel world- 616, 1610, MCU, any specific MCU film-will pull up 999999 fics set in some Marvel Meta ‘verse, each stuffed with tags and tags and tags and there’s little hope of actually finding what you’re looking for. (In other news, people who tag their woobie!baby!Loki fic with ‘Journey into Mystery’ are going to the special hell.)

The meta fandom thing might actually interest me, in an academic sense, if it didn’t hit so many of my “urgh, DNW” buttons. I’m really disturbed by the roles and small boxes the female characters get relegated to (if they’re not just all together erased). I am not a fan of regressive gender roles and the romance tropes that utilize them, and I don’t actually think it’s actually all that transgressive to apply them to male characters if the male characters are coded in every way with hetero-normative (to say nothing of sexist) expectations (e.g. in pairing x/y, one character will be the “man” and [the other character] will be the “woman”). And even more subjectively, I don’t like stories that strip out all the interesting characterizations and interpersonal conflicts in order to fit every character into some bland, tired hangout sitcom dynamic (seriously, it’s like “changing channels”). Grrr. YMMV, DLDR, and I will defend to the death fandom’s right to write and read whatever fandom wants. But god, these are all my kryptonite and with LJ pretty much DOA anymore, it’s so hard to kind of self-segregate. You’ve just got to look at all of it. Especially because so many of the ‘meta fandom’ type fics on Ao3 have tagged every single character mentioned, every single possible pairing, every single movie, comic book, and cartoon related to all the characters.

Grrr. this whole subject makes me grumpy. KIDS, GET OFF MY LAWN.

unpredictableevil: Oh god, yeah… trying to find stuff on AO3, especially in the MCU fandom for certain characters is infuriating. I was just having this discussion with another friend that centered more around ships that have become very popular with fandom and so certain characters tags are inundated with that ship and…well, if the fic has features that ship than you know the characterization is off from the get-go, because the only way those two people would be put together is if one or both of the characters had a severely altered personality.

Anyway, that’s a whole other topic, I know…

The meta-fandom thing also interests me in an academic sense, but I agree that I would not want to do the research myself. I also agree that nothing gets me angrier than hetero-normative gay relationships in fic and what that says about how those writers view gender roles and femininity in general. What drives me more crazy about it is that you see some of these authors also claiming that they want their ship to be canon because “queer representation” and “I’m an ally” and “media should be more socially progressive” - meanwhile they’re stripping a character of his personality because they can’t fathom a relationship where one character isn’t a submissive delicate flower who can’t open jars and needs someone strong to look after them, and the only “real” sex is penetrative sex, and the “feminine” partner always has to be the one being penetrated.

Ughhhhhhhhh… that’s kind of two topics too though. Anyway, yeah… get off my lawn, kids. :P

claudiapriscus: I’m going to be all tumblr and be all: THIS POST. THIS POST RIGHT HERE. Which is just a shorter and more emotive way of saying you are so goddamn right it’s not even funny. (but I prefer the way that involves swearing.) That is exactly it. Those tropes/fics offend me- as a subjective reader, not saying that everyone will feel the same way, nor that all fics that fall into these broad categories are like this, but the ones that are are really annoying, and there’s enough of them that I feel justified talking about trends- on so many freaking different levels. Because yes, there’s the completely messed up thing of using supposedly queer relationships to double down on heteronormativity. There’s the even more messed up thing of claiming to be an activist for doing so. (Which is a new low for slacktivism. It’s not often that you see anyone claiming that straight men watching lesbian-themed porn is progressive, feminist, or anti-patriarchy.) Which brings us to the whole issue of fetishizing someone else’s sexuality, and I suspect whole papers could be written on that subject. And then, then if you can get past all that, if you can get past the way actual female characters are demonized, excluded, or at the very best, relegated to even more minor roles than canon affords them…ditto PoC characters, more often than not….then you get the lovely final parting gift of the resurrection of the most sexist bullshit in regards to gender roles. It’s worse than freaking Twilight. And truth be told, I’d like to think it was all 15 year olds who simply didn’t know better, except it so often isn’t. WTF, fandom.

Rant, rant, rant. But I never see this stuff discussed. Possibly because of the likelihood of being flamed out of existence, IDK. But the point is that it builds up.

And while I’m ranting, let’s look at the pairing tag issue. Y’know, I spotted an Ao3 Tony/Pepper feed here on tumblr. I followed it. Do you know how often Tony/Pepper tagged stories actually involve Tony/Pepper? It’s like one out of ten or fifteen. Most of the others just have the briefest allusions to past Tony/Pepper. And the rest seem to be about Male Character A, B, or C, consoling Tony after that bitch breaks his heart. (so often, it’s Loki.) Arghghghgghg.

unpredictableevil: I’m going to double down on the Tumblr-isms and also say. YES! THIS! THIS POST!

Doubling down on heteronormativity is not queer activism. Also, wanting pretty boys to kiss is not queer activism.

What I think happens is that a fan does genuinely support better and more representation of LGB relationships in the media. Separate and apart from that, they also want two pretty boys to kiss. The result is this weird belief that those two things are the same thing. And we know that’s not the case from shows like Teen Wolf, that HAVE LGB characters already, and yet because those LGB characters aren’t the SPECIFIC pretty boys that the majority of vocal fans want to see kiss, suddenly there’s an “activist” trend trying to claim that because the specific pretty-boy pairing isn’t canon, the show is somehow failing at representation.

(I’m leaving off the T in LGBT, because as far as I know the only show that actually has a Trans* character is OITNB [edit: also Orphan Black]... and most of this weird slacktivism that I see is about relationships rather than genders… actually, I should probably leave off the L too, and put a caveat on the B that explains that the same “activists” only seem to campaign for male bisexual characters… I wonder why that would be :P )

And I’m not trying to be self-righteous here. I’m fully aware that I enjoy pretty boys kissing, that a lot of my free time is spent fetishizing other people’s sexuality - specially gay male’s sexuality, since that’s basically the only sexuality that I don’t/can’t experience myself. But the important distinction is that I KNOW I’m doing it and I don’t pretend that it’s NOBLE of me or that I’m being somehow progressive. I’m not being progressive, I’m being a bit gross.

And yeah, to continue the rant about MCU ships… I’m a big fan of Clint Barton. I can maybe get behind the Clint/Natasha ship, that’s okay… but do you know how many fics tagged with Clint or Clint/Natasha are actually Clint/Coulson? It’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s great that people are using their imaginations, blah blah blah… but COME ON. They had one scene together. ONE. Clint and Natasha have an entire history and are shown to be very good friends! And how come I can’t find a really cool story about Clint that’s NOT framed in a unbelievable romance? Blah…

claudiapriscus: I so hear you. On all of this. (my we’re really just of the same mind tonight or what). Like, yes on the sexuality thing, too. I don’t have a problem with wanting to see/imagine/write/read about two pretty boys kissing, but yeah, the problem comes when that’s elided with actual progressive gestures/stances, because it has the effect of…well, I don’t know how to quite say this right. It makes queer activism all about what gets someone, and especially a lot of straight women, off, so to speak? Even if it’s unintentional. Instead of it being “representation and activism is important, and on a totally separate and unrelated note, these two pretty boys kissing is pretty damn hot, y/y” it kind of gets perverted into activism for the purpose of sexually objectifying someone else’s sexuality. I think that’s why the lesbian-themed porn and straight guys keep coming to mind. It’s all about whose interests are being served- whose interests are considered primary.And activism should always serve the interests of the oppressed and marginalized parties, not the appetites of the privileged.

On the pairing issue, yeah, I so hear you on that too. Most of the reason I followed the Tony/Pepper tag is because I fucking love Pepper Potts, but the ship tag is the best bet (although still highly flawed, see complaint above) of finding her in a primary role. Now, part of this is because they’re a canon couple, and so even the gen fics ten to tag with it because they’re not going AU, even if it’s not the focus of it. That was something that made so much more sense when, say, there were gen communities, and pairing communities, so you would know which each tag meant in context. Dean/Lisa on a D/C comm would be certainly understood differently - i.e. background or previous pairing- than Dean/Lisa on a het comm (relationship or smut fic), and ditto with the gen comms (relating to what was seen in canon, with romantic elements possibly acknowledged but not central). I kind of wonder if it’d be possible to resurrect something similar on Ao3 with collections, where people could add their fic to a collection the way they would have added them on LJ to a comm.

I am pretty sure I’ve got some clint stuff bookmarked. I’ll have a look. (though you’ve probably already read it, haha)

unpredictableevil: Another tumblr move of me is going to be this:

activism should always serve the interests of the oppressed and marginalized parties, not the appetites of the privileged.


And yes, LJ was really good for finding like-minded communities, or knowing what you were more likely to find based on what community it was posted to. I remember explaining that to someone once when they posted an anti-John fic to a community that primarily shipped John/Dean in (disturbing to me) fluffy ways, and then didn’t understand why they got so much hate on the fic.

AO3 is nice because it’s such a vast archive that has basically anything that you could want - but that’s also its downside, because you’ve got to wade through way more stuff you don’t want to find what you want… and if people don’t tag or summarize well, you’re basically doomed to miss really good fic and accidentally subject yourself to really bad fic too.

Anyway, if you can shoot me some good Clint stuff, I’d appreciate it. I’ve had a few recs from another friend that I’m still working through, but other than that, I actually haven’t read too much Clint stuff because I just keep getting frustrated about having to sift through all the Clint/Coulson, or the “it says Clint is in this, but it’s actually about pairing X/Y and Clint just plays a supporting role that isn’t that interesting.” Much like your problem with finding Pepper stuff.
Tags: crazy rant, fandom

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