Anon is doing it wrong: Failure and confession in Fandom!Secrets

I started reading the LiveJournal site Fandom!Secrets (F!S) over a year ago as a way to painlessly keep up with fan!wank and find new fandoms.  As I have read it, I have become increasingly interested in it as a site of collective meaning making about fandom.

The site collects and posts anonymous graphical “secrets” from online fandom participants on a daily basis.  Like the above image, the secrets usually contain a fan related image and a short confession detailing how the fan thinks they are doing fandom wrong.  At present, F!S contains over fifteen hundred entries, each with about fifty secrets and nearly one thousand comments. Modeled after the popular blog, book, and touring show PostSecret, F!S is one of many archives for anonymous digital confessions.  What interests me, as a person working on non-commercial queer production in online spaces, is how the genre offers a platform for certain fans to quickly get at emotional shortcomings, indiscretions, and excessive desires in fan communities. In short, the site archives individual emotional failures.  Looking at the site over time, I have seen certain themes emerge, which point to some of the key ideological fissures in online English-speaking LJ-based fan communities. (Of course “fandom” is a heterogenous site- I’m trying to keep a local definition, but I welcome comments on other ways this site may be a problematic place from which to generalize.)

F!S documents the struggle over acceptable fannish behavior and feelings.  What’s fascinating to me is the contradiction embedded in the premise of the site. Broadly, commenters celebrate their non-judgmental attitudes. In comments and secrets, fandom is ideally constructed as a giant, weird tent full of geeky people rejected by the “mainstream” but embraced by other fans. The diverse secrets by music, anime, gaming, and television fans from large and small communities would seem to support this construction.  However, this breaks down as the site encourages participants to air specific grievances, which deflate a  (my own) utopian and universalizing understanding of fan culture.

Given the permissiveness of fandom, I expected all sentiments to be welcomed. However, this space excludes certain desires and performances. Meta debates over representation of sexual and gender minorities, the proper attitude toward sex, and the right way to act in a fandom flourish within the discursive space of F!S. Though one can read such activity as evidence of political diversity, the anonymous performance of these debates in F!S allows readers to see the connections between online discourse and larger patterns of racism and sexism. A significant subset of secrets air post-racial, post-feminist, and neoliberal reasoning, which the posters imply are excluded from the accepted modes of fan discourse.  As a discourse of victimization, these secrets may work to reestablish white supremacist hegemony through public calls to disappear race as a category of analysis in fan communities.  Though the secrets perform an affect of exclusion, their persistent inclusion in F!S threads points to critical contradictions within online fandom’s workings.

The site is an ambivalent space. To be clear, I want to avoid a simplistic evaluation of the space.  I’m not interested in dividing F!S posters and commenters into good and bad fans.  However, I want to take seriously the divergent uses of the space and challenge the problematic formulations of proper fan affect. The ambivalence of the space lets resistant and hegemonic conversations happen simultaneously.  As a researcher, I wonder how to adequately chronicle the ways discussions about racism and sexism happen in fan communities.

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