Squee from the Margins: Fandom and Race

By Rukmini Pande. University of Iowa Press, 2018. 256 pp. ISBN: 978-1609386184

As a young Latina, it was a rare television show that represented immigration, bicultural identity, and gender in a way to which I could relate. Now that there’s a character, Mel, on a television show, Charmed, that represents my gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, I faithfully follow the show. Part of how long it took relies on who is perceived as the neutral viewer, and the potential fan of any show. On social media, I engage with other fans, hoping that increased visibility of support for the show will guarantee another season. Other shows that have strong followings, however, remind me that there’s no guarantee, even if shows and actors interact with fans via social media with the intent of supporting our efforts in promoting the show. As much as I am a fan of Charmed, talking about the community building and cultural production efforts that fans dedicate a great deal of time to, I understand myself to be on the periphery of fandom. By periphery, I mean that I love the show, but that I don’t participate in weekly rituals around it such as reading or writing fan fiction, creating fan vids, or other forms of fan art, let alone reviewing or revising the content created by fans. Students of mine who study fandom or who are active in fandom have shown me, through their attention to detail regarding their communities, how much more would be required in order to feel a stronger part of any particular fandom.

Social media interactions via fanfiction, show-saving campaigns, and live discussions, my students have come to inform me, are worthy sites of inquiry regarding the inequalities that emerge in media consumption. I work with students at a minority-serving institution, so our conversations often engage in the extent to which we are on the screen as well as leading fandom conversations. In Squee from the Margins: Fandom and Race, Rukmini Pande critiques the lack of discussions of whiteness in the examinations of fandoms and fan products because “whiteness is allowed to operate without being named as such, race may be considered as an additional and incidental layer to any analysis rather than as a factor at its core” (7). In the first building, a fandom studies class that would examine the role of race, class, gender, and sexuality, Squee has become the text that bring to light the disparities my research assistant, Nicole Espinosa, was making clear to me regarding women loving women, representation, and fandom community building. Rukmini Pande’s Squee from the Margins Race and Fandom begins to address the gap in fandom studies scholarship my years of working with Nicole Espinosa had made clear.[i]

Pande argues that all that goes into fan community building, fan fiction, fan art, and fan conventions require attention to the racialization of fan visibility, fan inclusion, and fan labor. Throughout her introduction, she critiques the marginal attention given to race, whether it be in special issues focusing on race and fandom studies or special sections of books and journals that are dedicated examinations of the role of race. Pande wants to critique the neutrality of whiteness in fandom studies because of its inherent role in the promotion of specific characters’ humanity, like Hannibal’s, that would not otherwise be permitted or celebrated through fan fiction of the character in discussion were of African, Latinx, or Asian descent.

Teaching at a minority-serving institution, where my students and I often talk about the quality of representation of our communities in screen, Pande’s text speaks to their realities as fans, as consumers, and as critical feminist scholars wanting to complicate their participation in consuming media that doesn’t represent them, which sets it up for finding narrow bases of fandom community support. While there are larger texts like Paul Booth’s anthology A Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies, Pande’s text is an affordable addition to the revision of my fandom course, given the first-generation, nontraditional college student population I serve.

Assigning texts that align with my students’ experiences and that decenter whiteness, Pande’s book provides an avenue to maintain that pedagogical ethic all the while contributing to the field of fan and fandom studies. Pande’s chapter “The Fanfiction Kink Meme,” for example, brings the fields of erotica, pornography, and romance novel studies in conversation with each other in order to frame (1) the pleasure readers receive from what can be considered textual pornography, (2) the ways these fields overlap while maintaining distinct approaches, and (3) the role of racialization in the construction of characters in fanfiction. Pande writes that “Santana Lopez (played by Naya Rivera), whose canon portrayal leans heavily on the stereotype of the promiscuous Latina, is most often placed in sexual situations that highlight this promiscuity” (182). Fans’ willingness to perpetuate stereotypes for their pleasure, such as the Lopez example shows, expands the potential dialog and reflection my fandom students can have regarding the content they consume and the communities in which they engage. Scholarship such as Pande’s work speaks to my students’ ongoing struggles to find themselves represented and supported in their fan communities. Predominantly, white institutions’ fandom or media studies courses could use the text to question the extent to which the stereotypes that give us pleasure sustain other forms of inequality.

Pande’s attention to fandom studies’ inequalities is not focused on U.S. racial constructs, rather, Pande wants fandom studies scholars to consider the limitations of U.S.-centric research. She argues that fandom studies presume, unless otherwise stated, that the average “internet user is still presumed to be straight, white, and male, as well as located in the Global North,” which frames how those who do not fit into those categories as “a niche to be considered,” and tokenized in scholarship on fandom studies (51). The neutralizing of the Internet user as a Global North white, straight, cis-man who is most likely able-bodied limits the layered interactions and political economic interventions participating in fan communities provides us.

The breadth of Pande’s text can invite any scholar to use any single chapter as a case study that would warrant more critical examination of fan activism, fans’ understanding of the role of writing and reading sex, as well as the racialized and gendered disparities of citations within fandom studies. This book successfully explores intersectionality and globalization as they need to be better integrated in fandom studies. Its survey approach, where each chapter has a literature review grounded in case studies that highlight the needs, touches on a wide variety of topics that will need to be complemented by in-depth scholarship or even curated social media content to best allow students to unpack the glocalized nuances Pande begins to discuss. Further, to extend Pande’s call to globalize the study of fandom productions and activism, future students and I will need to be mindful of how the languages we speak afford us opportunities to interact with others. I look forward to teaching Pande’s book against special issues of Transformative Works focused on queer and people of color fandoms in the Spring of 2020. Given the fieldnotes I have about participating in my own fandoms as well as from attending fan conventions over the years, Pande’s text will be instrumental in helping me unpack my observations and experiences without having to center or prioritize or center white fandom studies scholarship.

 

Erika Abad
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

 

[i] Espinosa, Nicoles @decolesinize “The Clexalogy 101 class of your dreams” https://www.facebook.com/colesmcgee/videos/10103655348764178/   (17, Oct 17); Espinosa has given lectures, and presentations regarding the white dominance of women-loving-women in Clexa fandom as well as other shows. Espinosa has forthcoming projects regarding that white dominance and the aforementioned lecture is their preliminary to use Chicana Feminism to frame the healing potential and limitations in queer women fan creative content.

 

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