Who Actually Gets to “Escape” Into Fandom?


Fan Service is a column by pop culture and fandom writer Stitch that looks at the highs and lows of fandom, and unpacks how what we do online, and for fun, connects back to the way we think about the offline world.

The past four years have felt like we’ve been careening from one massive catastrophe to another, with no one anywhere left untouched by the increasing awfulness around us.

2020 was a banner year for awfulness; it began with wildfires raging across Australia, and everything just… increased from there. The world was on actual and metaphorical fire, and you have a few key events to thank: the increasing visibility of climate change disasters, a ridiculously active hurricane season, COVID-19 and so many people’s refusal to behave responsibly in the face of ineffective government reactions, and uh… all the antiblack racism and police brutality worldwide.

With everything bad happening all at once, it’s no surprise that 2020 was likely one of the Archive of Our Own’s busiest years on record so far. When the fanfiction site shared its site traffic up to April of 2020, their data showed a jump in daily pageviews from the last week of February to the first week of April. A probable reason? People wanted to immerse themselves in fanfic as an “out” from the world around them, just another example of fandom as a source of escapism from a very stressful year. But who truly gets to escape into fandom?

In 2020, fandom thrived. We saw people return to their old fandom favorites like Twilight or Sherlock, play so much Animal Crossing and The Sims, and fall down the BTS rabbit hole (leading the group to their first no. 1 song in “Dynamite”). Escapism has literally kept people going despite all kinds of crises, and the use of fandom as a solace will likely only continue now that we’re in 2021 and still awaiting easy access to vaccination. It allows people a reprieve, to bury their heads in the sand and pretend for a little while longer that everything isn’t so terrible.

Which is great… to an extent. But all experiences of escapism are not created equally. Escapism isn’t actually possible for everyone because of the nature of both fandom and the world around us. The best-worst example of the limits of fandom escapism? Racism.

Racism is global, and it infiltrates everything that we do; it’s close to inescapable offline, and it’s just as common online. Fandom is no exception.

In 2019, Dr. Rukmini Pande did an interview with Henry Jenkins about her book Squee From The Margins: Fandom and Race. “I found that while it is certainly possible for fans of color to ‘pass’ within online fan spaces, their modes of escapism are mostly contingent – I can enjoy a source or fan text until it gets racist,” Pande said in the interview. “Other fans articulated the importance of finding networks of fellow non-white fans so that they could curate their experiences to be safer. In all cases, fandom certainly isn’t a space where these fans can escape from race/racism even if it is not something that is engaged with publicly or vocally.”

It makes sense that people would resort to fandom escapism following natural disasters, or to have something to do other than overthink their local government’s COVID-19 response. But what about the times we’ve seen people talk about fandom being their “safe space” from them dealing with or seeing viral video recordings of Black people being killed, as we saw in the summer of 2020? What about people in the U.S. delving into fandom so they don’t have to think about American politics?



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