Fannish Essay for [community profile] month_of_meta

May. 22nd, 2013 01:06 am[personal profile] nike
nike: Jack Frost holding a snowball and smirking (RotG Jack Frost)
On The Collision of Fannish Expectations, Allowances, Kinks, and Squicks in Rise Of The Guardians Fandom

Warning: This essay contains some spoilers for the movie Rise of the Guardians and the books it is based off of.

To give you some background, I am what is known as a Fannish Butterfly. I wander from fandom to fandom based on whatever oddity interests me rather than what my friends/co-writers/favorite author is getting into, which means I've had a varied fannish experience. As a result, I am very aware that not everyone's experiences or expectations are the same and can vary wildly not only from the fandom for one canon to the fandom for the next, but within the fandom for that canon as well. That being said, there are some generalizations that, while being so far from representing a majority as to be laughable, are nevertheless very useful when describing certain parts of Fandom as a whole. To explain, the Transformers fandom is as akin to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fandom as a fandom on DW or LJ is to that same fandom on Tumblr. There's definitely some overlap going on, but there's enough differences that a person from one isn't necessarily going to be able to navigate in the other. However, where they overlap is where the generalizations work.

I'm going to refer to three different areas of Fandom based on where individual fandoms overlap enough to make somewhat accurate generalizations. For the purpose of this essay, they will be called the Anime Fandom, the Western Animation Fandom, and what I've heard referred to as the Migratory Slash Fandom. Each is quite different in their own way, which is why I found myself watching in surprise and interest when I found evidence all three were interacting in a single fandom and running afoul of each other's expectations, kinks, and squicks.

Rise of the Guardians, for those of you who don't know, is a computer-animated movie by Dreamworks Pictures based upon the on-going chapter books by William Joyce called The Guardians of Childhood. Both books and movie are basically about how these familiar myths and fairy tales like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy are actually badasses fighting against the Boogieman, Pitch Black. The books and movies also have some very adult themes mixed in, such as the nature of belief, what it means to grow up, whether darkness and fear is truly evil at the core, and some surprisingly dark background stories for the vast majority of the characters. The movie also has more death depicted in an animated movie aimed at children than I've seen in, well, ever. There's even a funeral/memorial scene. Admittedly, they Disneyfied one death by bringing the character back later in the movie and the other on-screen death doesn't have quite the same impact when the character, despite being dead, is still obviously walking around. Still, you have to admire the moxie of anyone willing to start a children's movie with the words of a character describing his mental state at the point of his death/resurrection. As for why this matters, I'm getting to it.

For some reason, Rise of the Guardians (henceforth to be written as RotG) managed to grab the attention of the areas of Fandom I'm calling the Anime Fandom, the Western Animation Fandom, and the Migratory Slash Fandom. The Anime Fandom and the Western Animation Fandom actually aren't all that surprising as animated movies tend to be something both aren't above enjoying. The Migratory Slash Fandom getting involved was the big surprise as that particular fandom tends to focus on Western-made live-action movies and television. I suspect it might have something to do with RotG being advertised as “Avengers for the kiddies” and enough of the Migratory Slash Fandom that was involved in the Avengers fandom deciding to take a kid or just trying it on their own and being caught up in the fact that the movie is rather good and has plenty for fanfiction to explore. The really pretty walking-dead character's angsty background alone would be enough to grab some attention. Add in the books and you've got tons more angsty backgrounds, including one for the villain himself (who, while being even creepier in the books thanks to not having to meet ratings standards, is also depicted as ultimately redeemable, even if that's a long way off). So, pretty characters, potentially redeemable villain (who is also pretty), and lots of angsty potential right there in canon? Oh, yes!

Then the trouble starts. Each of these main three Fandoms have different expectations, allowances, kinks, and squicks and they keep running into each other. While there's yet to be any kind of flame war (at least that I've seen), in the kink meme prompts, author's notes, and fanfiction itself, there's a certain amount of “The hell, people?” and “What's the big deal?” and “Ew, no!” and “You're doing it wrong!” and so on. The biggest problem, you see, comes down to pairings. The main person that people seem to like to slash in this fandom is Jack Frost, aka the pretty walking-dead character. This causes several problems right off the top of the bat because – in addition to the whole potential necrophilia thing – he looks like this (click the pictures for larger images):

Jack Frost

So, how old do you think he is? He looks like a teenager (and a very young one when frightened) but sounds like an adult. “Official” documents can't even agree, putting his age anywhere between 14 and 18. That is, he was between 14-18 when he died. This causes problems mainly between the Migratory Slash Fandom and the Anime Fandom. You see, the Migratory Slash fandom has gone and debated underage sex in fanfiction (what it often refers to as “chan”, in my experience) and have generally reached the consensus that if you're in a fandom with a character that young or de-aging a character enough for it to apply, you need to apply warnings or, better yet, age up the character. Most of that Fandom doesn't deal with young characters at all. The resulting problems are, one, Jack Frost can't be aged up (unless you count just putting him at barely the legal age for your country) because the movie shows that he obviously doesn't age over the course of 300 years. He's physically stuck at the age he died at, whatever that age actually is. And two, the Anime Fandom isn't warning. To be fair, they don't see why they have to warn.

Anime Fandom has long since grown used to several things that are very different to how Migratory Slash Fandom deals with chan. For one, Japan's age of consent is rather low compared to most Western countries, so it's actually not unusual to have anime that have a teenager in a romantic pairing with someone slightly older. For example, Sailor Moon's main character is a 14-year-old girl who ends up in a relationship with a college-aged guy. This is not unusual for the Anime Fandom. Two, many anime pander to what is known as shotacon/lolicon (young boy/young girl, respectively) by having a character who is Older Than They Look. This means you'll have a sexual being who is really a thousand years old and looks like they haven't even hit puberty yet. It's so ubiquitous, in fact, that some mangka have included an Older Than They Look character on accident and not because they meant to pander to certain kinks or fetishes. The end result is the Anime Fandom sees Jack as someone who is 300+ years old and looks like a teenager and wonders what the hell they need to warn about because, to them, he's obviously old enough for anything they want the character to do.

The Western Animation Fandom is actually more or less on the fence on this. Quite a few – but not all – cartoons have teenage protagonists, so where an author falls tends to depend on what fandoms they've previously wandered in, if they watch anime as well, and how willing they are to write sex.

Once someone's figured out what they feel about Jack and his age and state of living, you then run into who to pair him with. The only potential female to pair him with has bird features, so right there you've got xenophile. If you want variety of partners, you end up with slash. This gives you North (aka Santa), Sandy (the Sandman), Bunny (E. Aster Bunnymund), Pitch Black (the Boogieman), and Jamie Bennett. Of those five, only two are human, North and Jamie. Jamie's like 8, so unless you age him up or are willing to actually go the chan/shotacon route that's a no. As for North... It's not that surprising that very few people feel comfortable writing Santa Claus in a sexual relationship with someone who is/looks like a teenager. If North's paired with anyone at all, it's usually Tooth (Toothiana, the Tooth Fairy Queen) as a background Battle Couple pairing. Out of the three non-humans, the majority of the RotG fandom in general seems to have decided Sandy's asexual – or at least so alien in form that sex isn't really a possibility (how would someone made out of sand have sex, anyway?) – although there are a few (very few) romantic short stories pairing him with Jack. That leaves the two Jack is actually paired with the most, and both have their own sets of problems for the various Fandoms to fight over.

rotg pitch

Pitch Black, by his very nature, is dark. Even if the story takes a redemption bent, he still has to be redeemed first. This means many times the Jack Frost/Pitch Black pairing is dark, sometimes with hints of chan and themes about the corruption of innocence, or going for straight out dub-con or noncon. The Migratory Slash Fandom has no problem with that – as long as the proper warnings are posted – and really like the redemption stories judging by the sheer number of them, although a bit of dark fic is fun as well. The Anime Fandom is on the fence, depending on what fandoms an author has spent time in, and the Western Animation Fandom is leery in general, if they don't outright hate it, not having many redeemable villains in their fandoms. Concerns about this pairing mostly run into things like, who's the villain if not Pitch? and fear that Pitch's nature as a villain when he's actually being allowed to be one being either watered down or sexualized. It's not surprising to see people wishing he'd be portrayed as a straight up villain who doesn't use sex as a weapon. There's also the Western Animation Fandom's thoughts on dub-con and noncon, which is hard to define as this particular Fandom seems to rarely get into meta, but it seems to view such things in a very poor light.

As for Bunny...


Well, let me quote a conversation I had with a friend:

Friend: I didn't think I had a furry bone in my body until the day I saw Aster E. Bunnymund.
Me: You mean E. Aster Bunnymund.
Friend: Who cares? The bunny is hot!

This actually sums up a lot about what's going on in the Bunnymund/Jack pairing. This is the area where the Western Animation Fandom rules because furry and xenophile is where they have the most experience compared to the others (and you can get into a debate on whether Bunnymund falls under furry or xenophile because he's literally an alien). They know how it's done and have been doing it for quite some time now. The other two are equally on the fence about it. Anyone not going, “Ew, furry!” is going “Okay, the bunny actually is hot. So now what?” In their defense and favor, the haters are avoiding it and the lovers are trying to figure out how to make it work for them. And running afoul of the Western Animation Fandom's kinks. The Anime Fandom has enough cat girl/boys that they're not above turning Bunnymund into a bunny boy/man (and some of the Migratory Slash Fandom is willing to jump on the idea), which just gets raised eyebrows, head shakes, and general consternation from anyone actually used to xenophile/furry. Others write the pairing without changing Bunny but not taking into account that he's not human and certain things just wouldn't work that way (like kissing), which results in much facepalming from the furry/xenophiles. In fact, part of the furry/xenophile kink is that the other isn't human and exploring how a physical relationship would even work. Which means the ones that actually try to understand and do their research are respected by the Western Animation Fandom in general and the rest are looked down upon in disdain, even if their own kinks and/or working out of their desires is natural and laudable and even quite good and respectable in its own right. At best, such things will get a “it's good but not good enough” nod.

Again, this is all just generalities based on what I've observed and you'll probably find people who immediately disagree with me, but this is how things currently stand from my point of view. It's like watching a pot, waiting for it to boil over. Right now, there's only a few bubbles hinting at the different ideas and dissent going on under the surface. But I suspect things have the potential to turn nasty unless a conversation about what's expected and proper respect for each others kinks and squicks is opened up – or everyone turns incredibly insular, which might also be possible. Who knows what the future holds?

Date: 2013-05-24 08:19 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] erinptah
erinptah: (Default)
This was really interesting, thanks for writing it! I'd seen the movie, but know nothing of the fandom -- and I'm familiar with anime fandom and MSF in general, but couldn't have told you a whole lot about Western cartoon fandoms.

Is it weird that I'm actually surprised slash fans are avoiding shipping Santa Claus? I mean, it's understandable that it would feel kind of iffy to lots of people, but it wouldn't be the most cognitively-dissonant character I've seen MSF end up shipping...

Date: 2013-05-26 07:26 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] amalthia
amalthia: (Default)
loved your meta. I've been reading a bit of Rise of the Guardians and hadn't realized people were having these conversations...

Date: 2013-05-26 11:49 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] amalthia
amalthia: (Default)
I think because I've been reading fic from A03 I missed out on all the comments at the kinkmeme. I also joined fandom via anime and then branched out to western fandom circles.

Date: 2013-05-27 05:12 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] amalthia
amalthia: (Default)
I recently got into Young Justice, Justice League Unlimited, Avatar the Last Airbender and other Western cartoons, it took a bit to adjust to the animation style, though I love that anime is now influencing how cartoon storytelling happens in America. I don't think Airbender could have happened twenty years ago without the anime influence.

I didn't even realize there was a kinkmeme for Rise of the Guardians. Though I probably should have realized there would be one. It seems like many fandoms have a kinkmeme. I also do not read comments at kinkmeme's when I do read fic there.

Date: 2013-05-27 06:46 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] amalthia
amalthia: (Default)
Young Justice took me by surprise in how much I liked it. I think season 1 was the strongest but I did enjoy season 2. Sadly, the show was canceled. I've re-watched Airbender quite a few times. It's so funny and yet tragic in some ways. I also love the character.

Have you seen Fullmetal Alchemist:Brotherhood??? I think that's the last anime show I saw that truly appealed to me, in that it set the bar rather high.

Date: 2013-05-27 08:41 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] amalthia
amalthia: (Default)
I've heard lots of good things about One Piece and I have season 1 downloaded, just haven't watched it yet. Maybe on my next airplane trip (flying out of Alaska takes many hours and anime with subtitles is awesome).

With Brotherhood I recommend that once you begin watching that you set aside time to marathon because I'm not sure how you're going to get through the later half of the series without going crazy if you have to wait to see what happens next. My husband and I began watching a few episodes every night and then at some point we found ourselves staying up until 2 and 3am to continue watching...Brotherhood is darker than the first FMA that was released.

I watch a lot of TV on my computer monitor too. In fact that's how my husband and I watched all our TV for the first four years we were married. We still don't have cable. Instead, on the day we bought our TV, we also bought a Western Digital box and hooked up our WD box to out internet network, and when I download TV/movies I transfer them to the WD box hard drive through our mapped network drives. The hard drive connected to the WD box is a basic usb powered hard drive that I already owned.

We also pay for streaming Netflix, which I love because I'm not a big fan of needing to download everything. I bring this up as an option for that day when you're ready for a TV and don't want to spend over 100 dollars for Cable TV. Netflix does have anime, however it's all dubbed and I can't stand dubs so that part doesn't work so well for me. However, I know many anime fans that are a-okay with dubs. :)

As for other anime, I tended to like shows like Escaflowne, Hana Yori Dango, Hikaru no Go, Fushigi Yuugi, and Full Moon wo Sagashite...I think I tended to like shows that blended genres or had strong friendships/romances/melodrama.

I also tried Naruto at Animefest and when I went away for lunch and came back two hours later to find that the show was on the SAME fight scene as when I had left I decided this was not the show for me. My friend is really into the fan fiction for the show and I've been hearing tons of positive stuff about it, so that may work for me much better than the anime. :)

Date: 2013-05-28 02:25 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] amalthia
amalthia: (Default)
Sounds like I need to read the manga for Naruto so I can then read the fic. :)

I used to live in the country in Texas and high speed just didn't happen. But back then there were so few streaming options that downloading was it. It's also hard to break downloading habit because it's still so much easier than other options most of the time.

Date: 2013-05-28 03:50 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] amalthia
amalthia: (Default)
I try not to ask my friends in Europe how much they pay or what speeds they get because it always makes me want to cry that the U.S. sucks so much when it comes to internet speeds and pricing.


nike: Charlie Hunnam as my main muse Nibs (Default)

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