By Bethany Scettrini
Although many fans have found great friends and a sense of deep belonging and self-acceptance in fandom, fandom is not a monolithic space consisting of safety and community. In his article “Fan-tagonism: Factions, Institutions, and Constitutive Hegemonies of Fandom,” Derek Johnson suggests “the multidimensional, antagonistic dynamics of cult fandom demand that we avoid utopian models of fan community and productive participation” (299). To focus solely on the harmony and community fostered by fan spaces would do a disservice to the multi-faceted point of debate and discourse created by fans.
This essay focuses on points of contact where fan factions clash, and the effect digital fandom has had on these interactions.
Online fandom allows fans to instantaneously and continuously interact with other fans, plus producers and actors. This access has broken down the “fourth wall” between fans and producers, leading Jenna Kathryn Ballinger to comment that “fans are now more fearless,” feeling “they have the right to not only state their opinion but to aim those opinions at people with positions of power in the entertainment world” (3.3). Tumblr and Twitter have exponentially increased these interactions, allowing some fans to hide behind anonymous functions and feel uninhibited in their responses and communications. Alternatively, this access has given some fans the opportunity to have a voice in changing representation in media for the better.
A major point of schism in fandom comes from “ship wars” and “the inability of the producers’…to satisfy all…shipper interests” (Johnson, 288); the focus of this essay is the ship wars and “war tactics” between fans in online fandom. While not all media fandom surrounds shipping, a large part of online media fandom activity revolves around choosing ships—those you love, and those you hate. Your OTP, or One True Pairing, typically informs your fan production and online activity.
For instance, my OTP is Cophine—Cosima and Delphine from Orphan Black. This means my fannish identity and online fandom involves reading Cophine-centric fanfiction, watching or making Cophine fanvids, creating angsty or hopeful playlists on 8tracks, buying t-shirts and tote bags on Redbubble, liveblogging new episodes, forming group chats to discuss the show, and, as an academic fan, I even write research papers about Orphan Black and Cophine. These activities form my personal fannish identity and experience in my fandom; each fan’s experience and the fan activities they choose to participate in will inevitably be different, forming a unique combination threaded through with the colors of an OTP.
I argue that as fans we move in and through a multitude of fandoms; there is not one coherent “fandom” in which we are all apart or that defines every fan.
Concurrently, we have a multiplicity of OTPs, NOTPs (ships we adamantly do not want to see), BROTPs (pairings we “ship” as friends or “bros”), and constant dueling identities. There are certainly some fans who will set up strict binaries and engage in active and often aggressive behaviors to defend an OTP. There are other fans who embrace a more neutral stance, often multi-shipping: the more the merrier. BROTPs and OT3s (shipping three characters in a polyamorous relationship) abound. And sometimes it can even be fun to crack-ship or heckle with outlandish pairings, sort of leaning back at an ironic distance, removing oneself from staunch support of any ship through the posing of ships that make others cringe and heave.
Perhaps no fandom better displays the multi-faceted intricacies of “fan-tagonism” in our current cultural moment than The 100 fandom.
Derek Johnson defines “fan-tagonism” as “ongoing , competitive struggles between both internal factions and external institutions to discursively codify the fan-text-producer relationship according to their prospective interests” (287). He suggests this term in addition and contrast to “anti-fandom” and “anti-fans” as proposed by Jonathan Gray, “for audiences who approach texts in negatively charged, uninterested, or irritated ways” (Johnson 293). Johnson argues that
Anti-fans who hate a program (without necessarily viewing it) must be differentiated from disgruntled fan factions who hate episodes, eras, or producers because they perceive a violation of the larger text they still love. Fans may follow programs closely, even when meta-text and hyperdiegesis become so divergent that one would rather see the series end than continue on its displeasing current course (293-94).
This essay discusses several layered interactions within The 100 fandom that illustrate fan-tagonism and the various ways “disgruntled” fans express their displeasure with other fans, producers, and episodes.
What is The 100?
The 100 is an American post-apocalyptic teen science fiction drama airing on The CW starting in March 2014. Developed by showrunner Jason Rothenberg, adapted from a book series by Kass Morgan, the show follows a group of juvenile delinquents who are sent down to earth in search of life when the space station the remnants of humanity live on begins to run out of oxygen. The “last humans” have been living in the space station following a nuclear war and they assume the earth is unpopulated and possibly still inhabitable. The story begins when the “sky” people encounter the “grounders,” the people still living on the earth, and a fight for control of land and territory ensues as the “sky” people attempt to claim land for themselves.
The show is told from the perspective of Clarke Griffin, one of the 100 juvenile delinquents sent to Earth. Clarke leads the teenagers and serves as the medic. Clarke is also bisexual, a point that proves extremely important within the discussion of The 100’s fandom, especially within a discussion of ship wars, the intra-fandom fights about whom Clarke “belongs” with.
Ship Wars—Fan/Fan Interactions
Though The 100 is a dark show full of violence and death, it is still a deeply human show brimming with the capacity for human interaction and relationship. These range greatly, but there are a number of romantic and sexual relationships on the show. Of importance here are the relationships Clarke has with Bellamy Blake and Commander Lexa.
The interactions between shippers that support these ships are infused with intense vitriol. Fans who ship Clarke and Commander Lexa (hereafter referred to as Clexas) were largely drawn into the show by the hope of this female/female relationship between Clarke and Lexa, the teenage lesbian Commander of the 12 Grounder Clans.
The passion of Clexas stems from a desire to see healthy and normalized LGBTQ representation on television.
Fans who ship Clarke and Bellamy Blake, one of the male leads, are known as Bellarkes. Shippers on both sides employ various tactics to defend themselves and tear the other side down. One tactic is mostly polite discourse, in depth analysis that tries to demonstrate or prove why one ship is superior and the other inferior. Bellarkes often deconstruct Lexa and Clarke’s relationship in an effort to prove that it is abusive and toxic. Clexas often deconstruct Bellamy and Clarke’s relationship similarly to prove that they are only platonic friends.
Interactions between these two groups can also escalate to name calling, “@-ing” or calling someone out directly by their handle on social media, “dragging,” mocking, appropriating fanart and other fan productions, and intentionally seeking out tags in order to argue or harass.
Fans often express their feelings directly towards the television show’s creators and actors. Writers and actors have never been more accessible than now through social media platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Periscope. The 100 took full advantage of this access to fans at first to their complete benefit, drawing in a growing fanbase. Yet when fans felt betrayed, there was a backlash against the cast and writers, and especially showrunner Jason Rothenberg.
The 100’s showrunner, writers, and actors alike participated in livetweeting the episodes with fans. Showrunner Jason Rothenberg took to Twitter to promote the show and often seemed to prefer Clarke and Lexa’s relationship, to the joy of Clexas and consternation of Bellarkes.
Before Season 3 Episode 7 “Thirteen” aired on March 3, 2016, Jason Rothenberg urged fans to watch live, saying they wouldn’t want to miss this event. During the episode Clarke and Lexa finally consummate their relationship and the next scene culminates in Lexa’s death by a bullet intended for Clarke. Fans who were livetweeting immediately reacted to the death and to Jason’s tweets. Many expressed disappointment, sadness, but most expressed anger, tweeting “die” or “kys” (kill yourself).
Policing Fandom and the “Golden Age”
Fans also react to fan-producer-actor interactions from other fans; these reactions come in the form of policing behavior, pushing for positivity and a return to a “golden age” of fandom harmony, and defending the fan text, producers and actors. Derek Johnson writes, “Fans may hate the current status quo, but their intense feelings and continued contributions to fan discourse stem from pleasurable engagement with the diegetic past” (294).
While many fans of The 100 stopped watching the show after Lexa’s shocking death in Season 3 Episode 7 “Thirteen,” and appear to be “anti-fans,” they are simultaneously active fans that participate in online fandom. Desiring fandom to be a safe space, some fans take to policing others. Often fans will attempt to call out or shame other fans they view as behaving disrespectfully. Many fans were quick to urge others to refrain from saying things to the producers and actors on The 100 that were potentially harmful.
OKAY.We can all agree that Jason’s not the best showrunner.
BUT!! People!! STOP!! TWEETING!! HIM!! TO!! DIE!! He is a REAL person, WITH KIDS AND FAMILY.. not a fictional character..yes,it’s sad that Lexa’s dead,but DO NOT TWEET THINGS LIKE THAT.That’s disgusting and gross…
IT’S GETTING OUT OF CONTROL!! Every mention @Jason is DIE??? like STOP!!! Yes,he’s not the best person ever (not that I know him personally,but from what we know…),but telling him to die??? THIS IS TOO MUCH. COME TO YOUR SENSES, PLEASE!!! (bellarke-always)
Others urge fans to create harmony with other fans and to co-exist with other shippers.
The negativity can be overwhelming and it’s understandable why many fans feel jaded and cynical, laughing at terms like “community” and “harmony.”
A Re-Purposing of Negativity and Anger
In an environment saturated with emotions, it can be hard to believe in the benefits of fandom amidst a cloud of negativity. But it is possible to turn these powerful negative emotions into strength. The 100 fandom has proved the value in rising up in protest as fans. One only has to visit lgbtfansdeservebetter.com to see the impact of the fandom.
In response to Lexa’s death, many fans quickly banned together and turned their anger into a widespread social movement.
These fans started a fundraiser for the Trevor Project, the only national organization providing suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in crisis, and to date (June 23, 2016) have raised $133,712. The fans argue that the producers have a duty to fans: “The empathetic reactions of viewers need to be taken into consideration, especially when you have so many young, LGBT or questioning individuals watching and getting involved in this relationship. Not to mention, by many accounts, these were viewers that [the show] bent over backwards to get invested.” (http://lgbtfansdeservebetter.com/).
In an effort to amend what the fans view as an injustice, and to start to build a bridge between fans and producers, LGBTFansDeserveBetter created The Lexa Pledge. This Pledge “advocat[es] to achieve real change in the quality of LGBTQ representation in the media” and is a statement outlining specific ways media industry professionals will seek to change the way they represent LGBTQ characters and stories in the future. As of June 2016, it has been signed by sixteen producers, directors, and writers that have pledged to change the way they work and write.
Where Do We Go From Here?
In his groundbreaking work on fandom, Textual Poachers, Henry Jenkins argues that “fandom is an aspect of how we make sense of the world, in relation to mass media, and in relation to our historical, social, cultural location” (27). So what do we do when our favorite show has let us down and our fandom has fallen apart and become ravaged with negativity and hate? It can be hard to pick up and move on from a show and a fandom that has been a formative and meaningful experience and safe space. It can also be hard to start blocking people online in your fandom that have started churning out hate and breeding pessimism, people that may have been your longtime friends. Where do fans go from here?
Many fans move on to new shows and new fandoms, often sticking together. The Clexa fans, for example, did this. They followed the actress who portrayed Commander Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) to the show she left The 100 for—Fear The Walking Dead. The Bellarke fans remain fans of The 100 because their ship is in tact and the show was renewed for a fourth season. Fans ultimately choose how they will react and how they will represent themselves as fans. There are fans who are routinely destructive and antagonistic, but there are always fans who fight for harmony, community, and positive change in the media that we are all so passionate about. There will always be infighting, antagonism, and discontent within a community, but that means there is something worth fighting for and many chances to work together.
Ballinger, Jenna Kathryn. “Fandom and the Fourth Wall.” Transformative Works and Cultures 17 (2014). Web. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0569.
Hills, Matt. Fan Cultures. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print.
Johnson, Derek. “Fan-tagonism: Factions, Institutions, and Constitutive Hegemonies of Fandom.” Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. Ed. Jonathan Gray, Cornell Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington. New York: NYUP, 2007. Print.