Fangasms and The Powers That Be

I am supposed to be working on our book proposal right this minute, but I cannot. I don’t know how much any of you knows about writing a non-fiction book proposal, but there are typically several parts to such a thing. One of the parts, which happens to be the part I’m working on currently, gives the potential publisher (or agent) a description of books in the same basic vein as your manuscript, and then a sort of short “review”, so to speak. The point isn’t to obliterate the competition, it’s to explain where your manuscript is similar and yet different and worthy to occupy space on the bookshelf. So I’ve done a lot of reading lately. One of the books I just finished is entitled Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls by Katharine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis. I cannot stop thinking about this book.

Let me try to explain in the simplest terms possible: Lynn and Katharine (I hope they don’t mind my getting on a first name basis) are the Supernatural (as in, the TV show) version of Amanda and Rhonda….except that they are university professors (Small difference really, don’t you think?) and they write fanfic. We write a blog. Amanda, do you write fanfic?? I don’t write fanfic. I’ve no time!!  As I read this book, I felt the giddiness bubble away inside of me like a shaken bottle of soda. My husband has listened to me say “Oh my God, that’s just like us!” more times than what is truly necessary over the past few days. I couldn’t put the book down. They describe going to conventions, in fact the very first few pages of the prologue they describe getting to the San Diego convention center at some ungodly hour – I think it was 4am – because they wanted to be first in line to get in to Comic Con. Let me quote directly from a few sections within prologue and then you tell me if it sounds at all familiar:

“At 4 A.M., the massive glass and concrete convention center up ahead was still a dark outline against the sky. We lurched into a spot in the deserted underground parking garage. Easy!  We were feeling confident that we’d be first in line as we hurried up three flights of stairs and onto the darkened sidewalk, repeating our mantra “please let us be the first ones here, please let us be the first ones here.

“We did it,” Sabrina whispered to Kathy. Even Lynn – never a morning person, let alone a 4 A.M. person – started to smile. Then we turned the corner. Our self-congratulatory grins faded. There was already a line. Welcome to Comic Con, one of the biggest fan conventions in the world, attracting over 140,000 people each year. 

“They’re not all going to the same panel we are,” Kathy snapped, grudgingly forced into an optimistic role that was wholly unfamiliar to her. Sabrina just yawned, perhaps in lieu of taking sides. After all, she barely knew us. In fact, we had only met the day before. That, of course, didn’t stop us from offering her the second bed in our hotel room and cramming ourselves into the other so that Sabrina could join us in our early morning quest. She’s a fellow fangirl, and that’s enough for us.”

-excerpts from Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls by Katharine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis

Take out “convention” and put in GA line for a show, and I think you all will get the point.

I don’t know why I was so surprised to see that other fandoms are so similar to ours, except that perhaps I just didn’t know. They talk about “wank” – which is basically drama in fandom – something that ALL of us know well around here. Many people think the drama is just limited to this fan community as though we’ve cornered the market on poor behavior between fans, and yet that’s not the case at all. The competitive nature that exists here is pretty widespread – I’ve read some things about the Supernatural fan community that makes me cringe every bit as much as I have when I’ve witnessed the Duranie drama. The issues are still the same even if the players are far different.

They discuss the same sorts of parasocial interactions that I wrote about yesterday, which is a much fancier way of describing the one-way relationships that seem to exist between fans and the famous.  In some ways, the actors from this TV show seem to be pretty accessible. These actors willingly do conventions on what seems to be a pretty regular basis, complete with events like “Breakfast with the Boys” and taking photos for hours on end with fans.  This fandom has the same type of problem we do though, in that a fan might get a fraction of a minute with them, believe that they had some sort of “connection” and feel conflicted about that. The book didn’t really discuss Facebook or Twitter, so I have no idea whether they utilize social media to connect with fans, but the problems still remain.  You can feel like you “know” the actors, when in fact you really don’t know them beyond their characters or public persona, and for some people – it is difficult to separate those ideals.

They talk about the excitement of meeting their objects of interest, which in their case are Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. (I really hate the word “object”…talk about objectifying…geesh.) They even get into the stigma of being a fan, and they struggle with their role in all of it every bit as much as we do. In some ways, reading their book was validation for writing our manuscript. I was able to see that yes, other people – even academics – can write a book about fandom so that regular people can understand.

I differentiate between regular people and academics because if you’ve ever read a book on fandom, which I would guess most of you have not…unless you’re as crazy as we are…more often than not it is filled to the gills with research, footnotes and explanations that typically border on pathology. Rather than describing fandom with the emotional connection that Amanda and I thrive on here, it’s typically described as though it were an affliction. There is almost no explanation of the good that is done. There really not a lot of talk about the community aspects. There is, however, plenty of discussion and explanation of how being a fan of something somehow compensates for some sort of “loss” in ones life. As though it makes up for what we are lacking in other areas of our lives, personalities, etc. While I am certain that remains to be true in many cases, I personally believe there is a lot of good to be found in finding a group – which is really all that fandom is – finding a group where you belong, and that good that isn’t solely pathological in origin. That’s where our manuscript is different from most academic writing, and more like this book.

Another difference in academic writing is that academics do not believe that fans can actually write books about their own experiences without being clouded by bias. They don’t subscribe to the theory of “going native”, which I realize sounds a little…well, barbaric…but that is how it is referred in the academic world. All that means is workin within the community you are observing/studying – becoming a part of it all, really. Apparently these folks don’t believe that fans can look at their own fandom objectively with a sociologic lens. Personally I don’t think the academics out there can stand to think that they might actually BE fans because then that would require that they believe that pathology describes themselves. Talk about stigma, wow. So Fangasm differs in many ways from the drier reading I have done as of late.

Amanda and I haven’t had a lot of the experience these authors have had. Our journey through fandom, while similar, is also very different. For example, we have not necessarily been wholly embraced by what they call “The Powers That Be”. We’ve not been invited to do an interview of the band, for instance. We don’t get backstage passes or front row seats or special invitations – not that we feel that we should, but that differs from the experiences that these authors experienced. We pay our own way. They wrote about what it felt like to “be official” and get on the inside – and oddly enough, when they were finally granted that sort of access they admitted that they often felt as though they didn’t quite belong. They also started realizing that it all comes with a price. In their case, the television network wanted to publish their book – but they wanted a specific sort of book. They wanted fluff. A fan written fluff piece, basically. They wanted control over what would be published, and their ideas did not necessarily coexist happily with what the authors had in mind.  The authors went ahead with their own plans for their book, and the network didn’t like what they saw. As a result, they were eventually sent a “Cease and Desist” order. They were told never to contact anyone involved with the production of the show again, and the publishing deal didn’t come through. I know a few DD fans over the years that have had websites and things that, for a variety of reasons, seemed to tread rather heavily on the rights that the lawyers of the band felt they held, and as such – websites have been “heavily encouraged” to cease operations. I don’t know if those fans went away, or just went deep underground – but the point is still the same.  You can’t mess with The Powers that Be. In the case of Katharine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis, rather than get mad and go away, they finished their manuscript, found a publisher on their own, and kept going. From what I’ve read, they still go to conventions and they are still fans of the TV show to this day. I’m not sure that I would have come out from under something like that with such a good attitude. Their experience gave me a lot to consider, and I have to say, there is certainly something to be said for doing it all on our own. We have no one to answer to but ourselves, and no debts to repay. We review things the way we wish, we write what we want to convey – and while we might not always give glowing reports, we do love this band, and it’s all accomplished on our own terms.

The good news here is that since I’ve dissected the book a little here – I actually got some work done on my book proposal, too!


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