The touchiest subject in fandom isn’t about creepy pairings, odd kinks, or terribly written erotica.
The outpouring of joy on Tumblr over the election results underscored not only what an echo chamber various Internet communities can be, but also what a hivemind fandom can seem to the uninitiated. While issues of intersectionality, problematic fandom elements, and more recently, social justice, can create lots of divisiveness, those arguing generally tend to fall into the more liberal side of the spectrum. Indeed, when one of the most reblogged Tumblr posts of all time is simply “Mitt Romney sucks,” it seems difficult to find a space in fandom to express conservative opinions and ideas.
But the conservatives are there—although they may be hoping the rest of fandom doesn’t notice.
In 2004, controversy broke out in the Harry Potter fandom over the creation of a LiveJournal community called Wizards for Bush. The community, which is still active, had only a small number of supporters, but even so, some members of fandom, astonished to find members of their communities joining the group, unleashed anger and mockery upon those who did so. “For those Americans in fandom who follow a different political leaning than liberal-democratic,” wrote sidewinder in a post about the incident on Fanhistory, “Fandom can become a rather unfriendly place for the months leading up to the actual election, as the common assumption seems to become ‘you’re either with us politically, or you’re not one of us at all.’”
“I am a George W. Bush supporter,” wrote one member of the fandom, Alyeska, at the same time the controversy around the community occurred. “I always have been. I don't generally make it well known because so many of you hate him.” After receiving an outpouring of hurt responses from friends appalled by her support of a politician they saw as a bigot, she clarified:
I’m a moderate Republican who is more concerned with military funding...supporting small business (My dad owns a small business), simplifying the tax code.... I’m not an anti-gay, religious fanatic, hell I can’t even remember the last time I went to church. You're free to say what you want. I won't ever hold it against you, even if it's something I may not agree with. Friends accept each other warts and all.
But many members of fandom find it difficult, even years after the most tense days of the Bush administration, to reconcile being a member of fandom with being a Republican.
The primary source of tension involves the overwhelming number of fans who write, read, or consume slash. Because slash serves as an outlet for many queer fans, and because gay romance is its primary subject matter, it’s a polarizing subject to begin with. To many fans, the idea that members of slash fandom are simultaneously aligning themselves with a party they see as homophobic is extremely offensive—though fan studies blog Conventioneering points out that in Japanese fandom, where yaoi is mass-marketed for entertainment even as homosexuality is still widely denigrated, there’s an interesting dichotomy at work:
Some slash fans are vocal proponents of gay rights; others, interestingly enough, violently oppose gay rights despite enjoying the genre. And again, as a friend pointed out to me, slash fans – particularly fans of ‘yaoi’, which is a particularly Japanese form of male/male slash – tend to be socially conservative, with the vast majority of their stories conforming to oddly heteronormative conceptions of relationships...
Cultural differences aside, to many fans, supporting slash as entertainment but denying gay rights in reality is the ultimate hypocrisy. The taboo is so strong in Western media slash fandom, especially, that when it does happen, it’s the stuff of instant legend. In every instance I witnessed firsthand in fandom where a slash fan ‘fessed up to not supporting gay rights, backlash was so fierce that the fan ultimately deleted their fan presence entirely. It’s not a stretch to imagine that all the outrage may have driven similar fans into the irony closet about their own feelings on gay rights.
Sydney Taylor, a Republican fan who also reads and writes slash, told the Dot that she is “100% in favor of gay rights, gay marriage, gay adoption... gay everything, pretty much”:
I don't feel conflicted because although Republicans may have their own views on "traditional marriage", etc., on the whole they aren't a bunch of raging homophobes and will accept gay and gay-friendly conservatives in their ranks without question... whereas I have seen general hellfire rain down upon gay Republicans from so called "tolerant" liberals. I still remember the big outcry when Mary Cheney supported her dad despite her being a lesbian.… I believe in the adage that a good man can change his mind, and so I think the tide will turn in the Republican Party when they'll be more pro-gay equality, but to me the other side has a tendency to tell people what they want to hear, and not follow through on anything relating to gay rights.
Taylor is a self-described “social libertarian and fiscal conservative, but pro-life (sort of a Barry Goldwater type).” She says that while she has gotten some creepy comments on her more conservative posts, she doesn’t feel ostracized by the fandom community:
I've generally been well-received by most folks. In certain fandoms I did have people sort of disregard me because I was a Republican, and people would say things like "I didn't read this post because you mentioned Bush," or something like that... People are going to have their own assumptions but all you can do is try to show them that you don't fit the stereotype they have in their head.
But not everyone feels as welcomed as Taylor. In September, LiveJournal user bradhicks denounced a panel at this year’s WorldCon devoted to the topic of Christianity in sci-fi fandom. The panel advertised “A look at why some people who would lambaste religious persecution in daily life feel it is okay to unload on Christianity within the confines of a convention.”
In comments, kukla_tko42 responded, “Any crispy right-wing Christian who came to a fannish event would scream and run the other direction within an hour of being there.... Yet if you let on that you are a Christian in fandom, the mildest reaction one gets is disgust and horror.”
Nancylebov remarked that Christians “do seem to face a lot of reflexive distrust” from the left.
Taylor feels that her political values intersect with her fandom activities: “As a libertarian Republican my general opinion is to let everybody do what they want to do and just leave them the hell alone... I have great friends who have completely different political views than me and I respect them for being true to their own beliefs.”
She told the Dot that the most common reaction she gets from other fans is surprise. “Slash writers tend to be pretty liberal, so there's only a few pockets of us about. It's usually kind of one of those ‘holy crap, you're a Republican too? Whaddya know?’ kind of things.”
Tuesday night’s overwhelming support for Obama may make it that much harder for Republican fans to find each other amid the crowd. But one benefit to the expanded ubiquity of emerging fandom platforms like Tumblr is that what constitutes “fandom” to begin with can become as nebulous as political ideologies themselves. In a space as fast-moving, dynamic, and large as Tumblr has become, it’s all too easy to share fandoms with someone with whom you have nothing else in common.
And if that includes politics, perhaps it’s best if you don’t ask, and they don’t tell.
Photo via harryandthepotters/Tumblr