Thursday, February 05, 2015

Dog Whistles, Code, and Insider-sim in Fandom

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, like you do, and I came across this: "Why 'Fandom is Family' is Problematic". It's a collection or round-up of tweets (probably involving a much larger discussion) about the phrase 'fandom is family' and why we should stop using it. First of all, I've actually never heard this phrase in my long association with SF fandom, and I tend to agree that family is not ALL THAT to everyone and it certainly should not be a phrase used to shelter abusers, etc.

What I'm reacting to is the idea that fandom (and it's not clear which 'fandom' is meant here, but maybe SF con fandom?) is unwelcoming because it has so many in-jokes... or...? I'm not sure, because I think, in point of fact, that the very term "not welcoming" is a dog-whistle for the Tumblr-generation/fans.

I'm not saying they're not right.

When I first entered con fandom, I felt very lost. I didn't know the routine. I didn't know the lingo. I didn't have many friends who went to cons. In point of fact, I dropped out of con fandom until I was a newly energized/hungry writer and saw the advantages of meeting people by being on panels. It should be noted, too, that I am, and have always been, a vey out-going and social person. It's not normally hard for me to make friends with strangers.

So it's absolutely true that a person's first con can feel very... exclusive, excluding even. Certainly, LONELY.

I experienced that whole feeling of exclusion all over again, despite years of being in sf con fandom, when I entered the anime fandom (and the anime con fandom, both of which have their own sets of rules and entire language books full of code and lingo and acronyms.) I even posted here that what i needed for the next Anime Detour was a translator to act as my guide.


I never felt it was the duty of the con runners to make me feel "welcomed." I felt weird about my lack of knowledge--uncomfortable even, but I didn't let that stop me. If I felt any sense of privilege it was a self-empowered one, which was to say I NEVER DOUBTED THAT I HAD THE RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE, I just had to figure out HOW. I also never doubted that figuring out HOW was on me, and me alone. So, I thought, "Alright then, I need to ask what does mean?" I need to call up my friends and say, "Okay, who here is going with me?" I asked my more anime con savvy friends, "So... when someone is in costume, do I talk to them 'in character' or... What? How do I interact here? What are the rules?" In my early SF con days, I found someone I knew and asked, "Okay, so what DOES it take to get on panels? How do I volunteer for the stuff I like?"

I'm not saying this because I feel like "kids these days" (or people new to fandom) don't have the same where-with-all that I did/do.

But, because this term gets bandied about a lot, I do wonder if "not welcoming" actually is for them one of those words they use that means something that my generation doesn't quite understand the same way. I wonder if it means more than what I'm describing. I'm wondering if there are very specific ways in which the younger generation feels less empowered to just participate, despite the things I described above.

I'm not sure.

I want someone to tell me. I want to understand. I want to hear the stories that will open my eyes, so I can FIX the things for you (and, ultimately for all of us.)

In the meantime, I have to guess from context.

One of the back-and-forths in the twitter round-up made it seem like one person felt left out because Michael Thomas joked about "TRUfandom" (which is also a phrase I didn't know). She said, basically: "Whelp, see what I mean, I don't know this stuff." To me, that's not being shown the door, and having it slammed in your face, that's just BEING NEW. I've had the same experience as an old-timer, getting onto Tumblr and going to Anime cons. I never felt unwelcome. I just felt NEW.

We all need to learn each other's language.

I think that this is less 'insider-ism' than just the way sub-cultures operate. I sometimes have to use the urban dictionary to parse out what my neighbor is saying to me or what comments on my fan fic mean. I don't think my neighbor or the fans of my writing are trying to insult me or exclude me or intentionally make me feel unwelcome. In fact, each time I deciphered a bit of the code, I felt brought closer in. When someone left me ILU on my fan fic, I'd no idea for sure what that meant. I looked it up, and it means "I love you!" or "I like you" and is kind of just a term of excitement, bonding, or, as my subculture would call it, squee.

I really think that when Michael made his comment his intention was inclusion, as in, 'like that joke we have about TRU fandom, you and me." Yet it was seen as endemic to the problem.

I think we need to stop assuming hostility from each other.

Fandom needs all of us, young and old.


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