I went to the Carol Corps meetup and…
It was amazing.
Honestly, before DragonCon, I had no idea what the Carol Corps were, or what they stood for. wolvensnothere mentioned, on our first day, that he was going to attend the meet-up, and I figured I would go to see what it was all about.
What I found was the kind of thing that every form of popular culture fandom desperately needs: a safe, affirming, and inclusive space where everyone is welcome. And this is a message that is echoed in every article that I pulled up in my post-meet-up googling. For me, the Carol Corps represents comics fandom as it should be.
The need for inclusivity and representation within comics fandom is something that I spoke on at last year’s DragonCon, and something that I didn’t think that I would see actualized. As someone who seems incapable of leaving his work at the office (see my philosophizing the apocalypse tag), this was a source of extreme disappointment: I could see the problems that I was dealing with in my theoretical work reproduced within the communities that I loved so much, and it exhausted me. Comics (and the fandom) were, in my view, supposed be places that showed us a world that could be, instead, they seemed to be reproducing the problems of the world as it is.
This is why the Carol Corps means so much to me as a philosopher, a person of color, and a feminist. If you’re not interested in, or view the intersection of philosophy/academia and comics as irrelevant, you should probably stop here. If you’re concerned with these things, read on!
Kelly-Sue, in her opening keynote of the DragonCon comics track, spoke of the myth of the “default human,” the assumption that the straight white male is the default mode of human existence. For me, this was not an unfamiliar notion: Sara Ahmed, in her book Queer Phenomenology, and her article “The Phenomenology of Whiteness,” speaks of the way in which the orientation and organization of the world is such that the straight white male body fades into the background. As such, this body does not call attention to itself as it moves through spaces, including that of fandom and popular media.
To take up both Ahmed and Kelly-Sue’s observations about the world in the context of comics, fandom, and popular culture, the vast majority of our media, including those forms that I love, are patterned upon the assumed default of the straight white male. Beyond the media itself, I would extend this to the fandom itself: fandom is organized around the assumption that straight white men are the default audience for comics, and therefore push against the articulation of experiences other than this assumed default through their media. They view this as a disruption of the “natural ordering” of the social world.
Further, there is the assumption that those who deviate from the default, Sara Ahmed might call this the line projected by fandom, are incapable of understanding and experiencing the media in the same way. The theorist in me wants to link this directly to the concept of the “fake geek girl,” and the assumption that “black people don’t like comics,” because comics are not for them in the same way that comics are for straight white men. This mis-match of embodied existence to the actuality of the media, as articulated by predominantly male fandom, is why girls “just don’t get it,” in spite of the existence of the Carol Corps and the Kamala Corps, and the hundreds of movie going women who contributed to the overwhelming success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Disproving the tacit assumption of the “human default” in both fandom and the media itself, generates a backlash as the straight white male body is “unseated” from it’s comfortable position within the media and the fandom, and this is made manifest in myriad of ways. We need only recall fandom’s response to the casting of a black Johnny Storm, Donald Glover’s intention to play Spider-Man, the new Thor, and Iris west being cast as a black woman. Any deviation from the assumption of straight white male, or whiteness in general, within comics and fandom generates resistance from both groups as institutions as they seek to preserve their position as the status quo.
This is why the Carol Corps is so important to me as a philosopher and a fan. Not only does the Carol Corps provide what mainstream fandom does not, a safe space for fans of multiple intersecting identity, it actively unseats the assumed default by being so inclusive. If you look at the Carol Corps photos that I reblogged, you can see fans of every color and shape, gender identity and gender presentation. The Carol Corps, by simply being what it is, serves to indicate the direction that comics not only should go in but must go in.While the Corps is predominantly female, it’s openness towards all people’s experience (so long as they “don’t be a dick”) is what makes it so unique, as is it’s organization around Carol Danvers not only for who she is, but what she represents: characters as colorful and dynamic as the fandom that supports it.
Through its loose organization, the Carol Corps actively disrupts the “background” created by decades of the organization of comics around the straight white male by celebrating not only Carol Danvers, but fans and characters of all intersecting identities. It redefines what it means to be a fan of comics, it redefines how to be a fan of comics and media through its open acceptance of fans regardless of level of interest, experience with Carol, or embodied experience. If there’s a way to do “fandom” right, then the Carol Corps has done it.
Higher, Further, Faster, More.
Take a trip back in time with me to the mid-90s
- if you were up to date your computer was probably running windows 95
- there was no standard word processing application (I used Word Perfect, who remembers that one?)
- “the internet” was usually synonymous with “AOL” (although some folks used Prodigy or Compuserve)
- AOL had a lot of content, including message boards, chat rooms, IM, etc.
- fandom existed primarily on newsgroups, mailing lists, and message boards
- if you were on AOL, you might find fellow fans by SEARCHING THE PROFILES OF ALL AOL USERS FOR INTEREST IN YOUR FANDOM AND THEN RANDOMLY IMING THEM CAN YOU BELIEVE WE USED TO DO THAT AND IT WORKED JFC
- chatting for non-aol users was accomplished with IRC and ICQ (uh oh!)
- the best web browser was Netscape Navigator
- you paid for internet BY THE MINUTE and it was a great day when AOL changed to a flat monthly fee for unlimited access
- you didn’t use the internet for too long at a time anyway because you were tying up your phone line. Or, you got a second line for your computer.
- websites involved lots of tiled backgrounds, flashing text, and marquees. Most had a single banner image because graphics took forever to load.
- the word “blog” did not exist
- fanfiction was hosted on your own personal website or on an archive website someone in your fandom set up. You might have fic in multiple archives.
- to share fanfic with people IRL you either had to save to a floppy for them or print it out.
- the bulk of mailing lists were on egroups which later was purchased by yahoo and turned into yahoo groups
- website hosting services included GeoCities, angelfire, Xoom, and others I feel like I’m forgetting right now
- web search was ineffective and fairly useless. You had to search multiple providers (yahoo, alta vista, lycos) which would each give vastly different results, until metasearch came along and consolidated them for you
- to find sites in your fandom you would go to one site and see which webrings they were a member of, then look through the webrings. Some people wouldn’t let you into their webring if they didn’t think you were cool enough.
- every website with fanfic had layers and layers of disclaimers and if applicable adult content warnings you had to click through to get to the content
- we have come a long way in the past 20 years (also jfc I’m old)
There are so many more fandom knitters floating around, in fandoms that I am in, than I thought.
It’s delightful. :D
And yet fanfiction is an inherently transformative work which, by its very nature, strives to address or change some flaw that exists in canon, even if that flaw is “why isn’t there more of this thing?!” Fanfiction has addressed the lack of gay men by making straight characters gay; it’s addressed countless cultural misappropriations with wildly varying AUs; it’s addressed canon plot holes and timeline issues with fix-it fics and crossovers. Fanfic is the show your show could be like, if only you dared to dream.
But for all its transformative nature, fanfiction and fandom still suffer from a real dearth of femslash. Beyond the simple fact that very few girls exist in canon materials, the societal emphasis on the male gaze seems to have affected fanficcers’ creativity to such an extent that even in our own fantasies, we cannot give women a fair shake. Just as the answer to “Why is there so much slash?” cannot be boiled down to “ Well, straight girls are horny”, the answer to “Why isn’t there any femslash?” cannot be boiled down to “Well, straight girls don’t care.” The bias against female characters and female pleasure is an ingrained, institutionalized problem which won’t go away on its own.— Conclusion of Lady Geek Girl and Friends’s fascinating article on femslash and fandom (do give it a read if you’re interested!)