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This Week in Fandom, Volume 71

Welcome to This Week in Fandom, the OTW’s roundup of things which are happening! Before we start, did you watch the 2017 Doctor Who Christmas special during TWIF’s holiday hiatus? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments!

Marvel recently announced Create Your Own, an upcoming website where fans will be able to create their own comic strips that feature Marvel characters. However, there’s a catch (or ten): as The Verge hilariously recounts, not only will Marvel own the rights to all comics produced on the Create Your Own platform and forbid creators from sharing their comics anywhere but on the website itself, but “[a]ccording to the lengthy terms, you can write stories about whatever you want, except for just about any dramatic situation you could possibly imagine.”

Here are some highlights from the very long list of no-no’s:

  • “Content that could frighten or upset young children or the parents of young children.”
  • Prescription drugs or over-the-counter medication, vitamins, and dietary supplements.
  • “Suggestive or revealing images,” including “bare midriffs”
  • “Sensationalism,” which is not defined but elucidated with the examples “killer bees, gossip, aliens, scandal, etc.”
  • “Noises related to bodily functions.”
  • No politics, including “alternative lifestyle advocacies”
  • Any “controversial topics,” including “social issues”
  • Double entendres
  • Any amusement parks that aren’t Disney amusement parks

Reactions to the announcement have been overwhelmingly unimpressed, with many fans criticizing Marvel for the platform’s restrictive Terms of Service.

Other fans are opting to make light of what they see as an opportunity:

What do you think? Would you make a comic with Create Your Own?

As The Independent reports, Season 4 of Black Mirror has dropped on Netflix, and the season premiere, “USS Callister,” featured a commentary on fandom and toxicity within an homage to Star Trek (spoilers ahead!). The episode tells the story of a woman who finds herself in a virtual reality simulation of a television show where her male coworker is abusing her and others, and she must orchestrate an escape by taking control of the space ship they’re on.

Viewers are torn as to what exactly “USS Callister” is saying about fans and fan culture. One review from Vox claims that the antagonist “doesn’t want to be an author; he wants to become part of the canon,” and that the protagonist succeeds because she learns to take agency and write her own “fanfiction” within the universe in which she exists. Another review from Polygon reads the antagonist as representing abusive and misogynistic “toxic fans”:

I saw many reflections of my own experience through the eyes of this character, being a female nerd and fan in a community that turns the colors of my joy into tormenting dreams… Our fictional worlds can be beautiful and inspiring, but they can easily become terrifying if we’re not careful, if we allow ourselves to be driven by base prejudices and rage. Toxic fans want to satiate their growing appetites for power fantasy; they want other people online to dance to their tune and bow to them, like NPCs. To the abuser, there’s no fun in hurting NPCs of course, but turning a human into an NPC is what real power feels like: domination.

An article from Rolling Stone similarly describes these “toxic fans” as “speculative fiction fans on the Internet who feel that, in expanding the worlds of beloved sci-fi properties to include more diverse representation and worldviews, something is being taken from them. Their complaint, broadly, is founded on the deeply limiting idea that all narratives should center on straight, white men, who have been the unquestioned default protagonists up until very recently.” The article also goes on to compare Robert’s character to some of the recent backlash against Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

However, a Den of Geek review argues that “USS Callister” misrepresents sci-fi fandom by erasing female and minority fans’ presence and influence from it in its portrayal of Space Fleet, the fictitious series which serves as a stand-in for Star Trek:

Fandom is a diverse place where many different people have the power to tell stories the way they would like to see them told. While that sometimes means men trying to regress popular stories into their most sexist, racist elements, historically, it has more often meant women leaning into the more diverse aspects of canon and filling in the world to include more diverse characters, themes, and emotionality. “USS Callister” completely ignores that element of fandom, as most popular stories do…

Nanette’s understandable repulsion for Robert is conflated with a derision for the Space Fleet story itself. [Star Trek:] The Original Series is simplified to its most regressive aspects: its short skirts, consent issues of its captain, and blatant racism. Yes, these things are all worth interrogating, but they are not all that The Original Series was, or all that it inspired in its diverse fanbase.

Irrespective of fans’ conflicting interpretations of the events of “USS Callister,” there is a chance that fans will someday see the universe of Space Fleet expanded or subverted. Director Toby Haynes has suggested the possibility of creating a spinoff TV series based on the episode.

Warning for suicide in this next section. Please beware.

On a sadder note, Kim Jonghyun, lead singer of the K-Pop band SHINee, has passed away in what some local news outlets are reporting as an apparent suicide. One article in Singaporean paper The New Paper by a K-Pop fan points out that some people have mocked Jonghyun’s fans for their grief about his death, arguing that fans’ dedication to Jonghyun and the SHINee fandom is valid and that they should not be devaluated for mourning his loss:

For Shinee fans, being part of the fandom and loving Jonghyun, whose real name is Kim Jong Hyun, brought happiness and friends. That makes him deeply significant to them. Even if they have experienced Shinee only through a computer screen, their grief is real and their yearning to give him a proper goodbye is understandable.

As psychologist Daniel Koh from Insights Mind Centre puts it: “We must treat this as a real thing instead of dismissing or mocking their grief.”

Meanwhile, fans have been using social media to express their grief and celebrate Jonghyun’s life.

Finally, author Neil Gaiman defended the multiplicity of fannish readings of his books when responding to a Tumblr ask about Good Omens character Crowley’s sexual orientation and ships. According to Gaiman, “If anyone decides that The Relationships in Their Fanfiction Are the Only True Fanfiction, it seems to me they are missing the point. The point is Fanfiction exists so that you can imagine, enjoy and fill in the gaps.” He also claimed that even statements he could make himself about things not explicitly stated in his books would be no more legitimate than fans’ interpretations “because it’s not canon unless it’s in the book. It won’t be TV canon unless it’s on the screen.”

Gaiman’s remarks also nicely complement the aforementioned Black Mirror episode “USS Callister.” One Vulture review interprets “Robert’s deranged VR realm as an allegory for the complete dominion an author holds over their characters, both in fiction of the fan and professional varieties.”

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