Our four part series, Being Fandom, looks at aspects of belonging to and being in a fandom. This issue, we look at the etiquette of fandom, and how to be considered a polite and well-mannered fan.
As children, the vast majority of us are taught manners. No, stop looking pointedly at the person within your eye range that clearly wasn’t, we’re not talking about them today. Where was I? You’ve got to stop distracting me like that. Right, yes, manners. We’re taught manners as kids, by adults, and rewards and punishments and authority figures and that gradual creeping feeling as you grow up that if you aren’t polite nobody will like you.
Alright, manners vary from person to person – my idea of being friendly to a person frequently involves calling them an idiot three times within twenty minutes of meeting them, and tends to weed out people who can’t take a joke quite quickly – but still, there are a few basic things most people agree on, even if they ignore them. Things like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’. Letting people off a train before you try to get on it. But who teaches us fandom manners? (Don’t even think ‘You do, mother’ in that tone of voice; I will ground you and take away your pocket money.)
No, seriously, though. Fandom has a whole different set of rules and activities and boundaries, and while some things are transferable from ‘real life’ – ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ will never go amiss – there are several subtle differences. So what kind of etiquette have we got going that a stranger to these parts might not know about?
Well, there are some pretty sensible ones. If you’re sharing something on Tumblr, for example – a site where fandom thrives – you should reblog instead of reposting, and elsewhere a link is better than a straight copy. Why? Because you should always give credit to the original source. Whether that’s someone who’s painstakingly scanned in a lovingly-painted watercolour of a Quidditch game, the original speaker of a witty comment released onto the internet, or someone who’s compiled a photoset out of magazine photos, they should always be referred back to as the originator of a post. Given that none of us own the intellectual property we’re playing with a lot of the time, we’re in something of a legal grey area, but the ability to respect each other’s hard work and recognise them for it is what keeps the fan-creation world running smoothly.
So, give credit where it’s due – but never reveal another hero’s secret identity.OK, we’re fans, not superheroes, but a lot of us do, for various reasons, use aliases online. The basic rule is, if you happen to know the real name of someone who writes fanfiction or draws fanart or just comments online using a pseudonym (a false name), don’t tell the rest of the internet. You don’t know why that person’s hiding their true identity – maybe they need somewhere safe to talk about their problems without being judged by the people they know; maybe their parents or friends don’t understand their obsession with Lana Parilla or Tom Felton. Maybe they just need to keep their fanfiction and their Facebook profile separate, in case their boss goes snooping. For whatever reason, if they choose to tell people their real name, that’s fine. If you choose to tell people their real name, it’s a problem. So don’t do that. If they’ve told you who they really are, feel honoured! They’re trusting you. Don’t abuse it.
It’s also considered polite not to bash a ship. Obviously, we all have differing opinions – some of us think Rachel and Finn were made for each other, some of us think she’d be happier with Jesse or Puck, some of us don’t watch Glee and are reading this paragraph with mounting bewilderment. The point is, we all have different opinions and all of them are valid. Please, even if you think a couple are totally wrong for each other, don’t go out of your way to tell their fans that. In general, try to keep things constructive. “I liked her more with Puck” is infinitely preferable to “That’s just so wrong, Jesse’s so bad for her”. I’m not saying fandoms don’t allow negative opinions – far from it, fandoms challenge you to always think about what you’re watching, reading or listening to – but remember that others might not share your views. Ultimately, being part of a fandom is about what you like, not what you don’t.
That also leads us to the very similar guideline known simply as ‘don’t tag your hate’. Basically, the idea of this is as follows: feel free not to like something, feel free to talk about not liking it, but please don’t head straight for the people who love something – or even more so, the people involved in its creation – and tell them how much you don’t like it. Balanced, considered reviews don’t count as hate, usually, but generally someone scrolling down the Doctor Who tag on Tumblr or browsing a forum in search of Merlin discussions doesn’t want to see “This show has gone so far downhill, I used to think it was OK but now it sucks.” Not constructive – it doesn’t make you feel better for posting it, and it doesn’t make anyone feel better for reading it. So it’s polite to refrain.
There are a couple of other things that are a little more debatable when it comes to fandom manners – some people, for example, believe that ‘going anon’ to say something to someone is fine if you don’t have an account or don’t want to be identified, while others believe it’s only polite to give a right of reply by giving your username. We’ve suggested before in our Social Networking article – and I feel it applies to interaction with other fans, too – that if you are going to leave a comment anonymously, it’s best to examine your reasons for doing so closely before sending. Is it because it might upset the other person? Best not to send it at all, then, perhaps. In fact, reading a message back to yourself before you read it is always a good idea, so you don’t accidentally offend people.
Etiquette in fandom is not as different from ‘normal’ manners as it appears on the surface, then – it’s all to do with making sure the people around you feel respected and valued. Whether that means crediting them for their awesome work, or just not going out of your way to make them feel bad about their fandom feels, it seems fairly common sense to try to avoid hurting people. When it comes down to it, a fandom, and all fandoms as a whole, are a community. We all get judged enough for actively enjoying things in the outside world; it’s only logical to keep the fandoms we feel safe in as pleasant as possible.
Eleanor Musgrove (really isn’t trying to be your mother)
We’ll be wrapping up this series next issue, but as usual we’re not 100% sure what we’ll be talking about yet. We’re disorganised, but you love us really. And you can look forward to the surprise!