So I got a really thoughtful comment from a Daily Dot reader on my fourth wall opinion piece. I wanted to respond but it got too long for the comment box, so I’m relocating it here.
The tl;dr version of my argument is that there is no fourth wall, period—not that there is a wall and that we should be actively trying to tear it down.
I don’t advocate a “coming out” or anything of the sort in my article. What I am advocating is a change in awareness of how fandom thinks about its fanwork and its interaction with the mainstream media. To quote tomato-greens on Tumblr, “it is imperative to understand that the fourth wall is an illusion we’ve built and maintain for the sake of propriety and discretion, not an actual protective agent.”
You said that I talk about fandom like it’s only recently discovered, but that’s not actually what my article says at all—please reread the paragraph where I point out numerous examples showing that fans and TPTB have been interacting since the early days of fandom and there has never ever been a hard and fast wall between them. The mainstreaming of fandom has made those interactions more and more frequent, essentially constant and deliberate at this point. And that goes for mainstream media outlets as well as for the creators/producers of the media we consume.
You say that there will always be a “stigma” associated with being a nerd but I don’t believe that’s true at all, because to a great extent the definition of what is “nerdy” has evolved and expanded to the point that to be a geek is to be considered trendy. Fandom, likewise, has surpassed “nerdy” boundaries, if it ever fell within them to begin with. For example, think how many members of fandom you know who are style mavens—they post about makeup and clothes and shoes, and, oh, yeah, also write fanfic. You don’t have to be nerdy to participate in fandom culture, because fandom is everywhere.
I don’t think fandom’s discomfort with exposure is necessarily due to shame, and I want to be absolutely clear about this because I completely 100% agree with you that it’s more than okay for fans to just not want people peering in on them! And I said explicitly in the article that there are all kinds of totally valid discretionary, personal, legal and practical reasons to keep your own activities locked down. They have nothing to do with shame.
For example: I created one of the largest and only political slash communities on LJ. It’s been locked since day one. We’ve been thinking about unlocking it lately, actually, because since numerous members of the press have done articles on political fanfic, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal and we’re pretty sure no one cares, but do I regret locking it? Absolutely not.
For another example: I worked as a tutor for three years while still participating in fandom. The whole three years I made most of the contents of my LJ private. Last year I taught a few piano and voice students and re-locked a lot of the contents of my LJ, which I’m slowly unlocking again since I’m not teaching at the moment. I will absolutely do it again if necessary, because I will always prioritize my students’ comfort over the Internet.
But if anyone asks me about fanfic, am I going to lie or tell them I don’t know about it? No. I think fanfic is awesome, and I have the privilege to tell people so, and I will. Just because we exercise personal discretion as needed doesn’t mean that we need to be afraid of talking about fandom in real life, or be unhappy that other people are talking about it both on and off the internet. The more I talked about fanfic, the more comfortable I became talking about fanfic, because the more I realized that the people around me typically thought it was no big deal, and often were interested and wanted to know more.
I made two points about shame in this article. The first was that it’s a natural outgrowth of pretending like the fourth wall exists—not the only possible outgrowth, but one that does happen: how many people have you seen around fandom talking about their fanwork as if it’s just inconsequential porn? Because I see it pretty much daily, and I think that’s a statement that comes from shame. Mary Sue? PWP? crackfic? Those are all words that trivialize fanwork. Shame is systemic within a lot of what we do, which has nothing to do with any individual feeling about fandom.
The second point I made is that because we hide, because we act like there *is* something to hide and that we *can* hide it, it’s consequently easy for other people to *attribute* that hiding as being due to shame, and therefore easier for them to shame us. Does that make sense? Fans aren’t automatically shameful, but acting like we’re hiding something makes it easier for other people to assume we are.
And if we want to keep parts of fandom private, that’s fine, that’s great! But those are individual decisions, and those decisions aren’t going to be universal. You’re not going to convince every last member of the fandoms you’re in that they need to stop using Tumblr and move back to LJ, or move to Dreamwidth, or that they need to lock down their fanfic and keep it tight. And, like in my own case, as situations change, not everyone will want to lock down all their fic at all times. The reality that we’re dealing with is just not simple. Even regarding the RPF communities you’ve mentioned, not all fans are in agreement about how to deal with the public nature of their fanworks. 1D fans on Twitter and 1D fans on Tumblr tend to have totally different attitudes about 1D RPF;’ and in the hockey fandom, initially, every single fan I talked to about the article we chose to cancel was receptive to the idea of the article and eager to help me make it better. There’s no consensus, but there is a lot of public fanwork and a lot of attention on fandom.
As long as our works are public and there is no fandom-wide ability to make them non-public, fandom is subject to the same public scrutiny that every other cultural movement is subject to. But the consequences of getting attention do not always have to be bad. There’s so much media interest in fandom right now and while some of it is pejorative, increasingly, more of it isn’t. I would say that by and large the consequences of the Daily Dot’s decision to start covering fandom more have been extremely positive. And most of the fans and non-fans I’ve heard from about the DD’s fandom coverage have been really excited about it.
And to me, that makes the choice to be proactive about our hobby a no-brainer. You said, “It doesn’t mean we need to forfeit the close-knit community aspect of fandom and get proactive about our hobby…” my argument is that when there are 250 million people on Tumblr and nearly ALL of the top 10 tumblr tags are fandom-related, the choice to forfeit close-knit communities isn’t up to us. We moved to Tumblr. We chose to make our fanwork public. We chose to use public spaces and platforms—LJ, DA, AO3, ff.net. Our community began as a tiny rural hamlet that has now grown into bustling suburbia, and that’s just the way it is. Our problems aren’t tiny hamlet problems anymore, they’re big city problems.
So the choice to be proactive is actually a defensive offense. And by “being proactive,” I don’t mean “coming out” or doing anything outside your personal comfort zone. I mean recognizing that people who want to find and interact with public fandom are going to do so.
There is nothing we have to do, on our own, to make that happen. It’s already happening, because fandom is already awesome and more people are realizing that. All I’m saying is: it’s happening whether we want it to or not. Let’s welcome it, realize that’s the reality we’re in, and adjust our approaches to fandom to make it a more positive an experience for everybody.
eta: also just to tack on one last thing—the idea that I’m seeing in this comment and other places, that I’m somehow am implying this is an URGENT need. There’s no urgency, no high stakes involved, generally speaking for all of fandom. I didn’t say that anywhere in my article. The only immediate factor is that the collision of fandom and the outside world is happening to fandom right now, every day.