Tumblr likes to think of itself as the back alley of the internet, a forgotten corner where people can be weird in peace. Perhaps because users feel free to let loose creatively, Tumblr has also historically been a home for transformative fandom. In particular, its image-oriented display has given rise to a visual fandom culture characterized by both GIF making and image editing. This visual fandom culture has engendered a particular genre of meme: screenshots of humorous posts pasted on a thematically-corresponding still or GIF from a movie or TV show for humorous effect.
Unlike the more well-known versions of this meme, the images of text in this post are not shitposts (short text posts with irreverent but relatable jokes). Instead, they are free-form tags from the fanfiction website Archive of Our Own. Fanfiction authors often use freeform tagging for humorous effect, as a way to add funny commentary (in addition to the tags’ primary purpose of providing searchable information not otherwise covered by the Archive’s standardized tags). Because they can serve a similar comedic function, free-form tags are thus “substituted in” for the shitposts more typical to this genre.
This post is able to depart from genre conventions and use free-form fanfiction tags because the tags do not come from Untamed fanfiction, but instead, from Silmarillion fanfiction. That is, because the tags reference a world “outside” The Untamed, as do shitposts, they can function in the same way: to create humorous connection between two seemingly unconnected pieces of media that express similar themes or sentiments.
And these particular tags create this connection based on the audience’s knowledge of The Silmarillion fandom. Like The Untamed, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (a pre-history of Middle-earth) features a fantasy setting that includes magic, family drama, and beautiful men with flowing hair. It’s understandable, then, that the two fandoms would overlap. The freeform tags in this post reference in-group knowledge, and they also use that knowledge to humorous effect by drawing implicit parallels between The Silmarillion and The Untamed. Relying on multiple layers of niche audience knowledge—and creating new connections in the process—compounds the humor.
Like all things (now) of the internet, fandom is a posthuman thing, in the true etymological sense of the word: a coming-together of peoples, media, and knowledges, mediated by networks of circulation. In colloquial speech, then, one could say this post represents “peak Tumblr fandom.”
The author would like to thank Tumblr user @aowyn for her suggestion to use this particular post and for her consent to have her work featured in this project. To view the original post on Tumblr, click here or follow this link: https://aowyn.tumblr.com/post/618852607694356480/the-untamed-as-silmaril...
Suggested Further Reading:
Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Duke University Press, 2007.
Barnett, Scott, and Casey Boyle, editors. Rhetoric, Through Everyday Things. U of Alabama P, 2016.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, translated by Harry Zohn. Schocken, 1969.
Bennet Jane. “The Agency of Assemblages and the North American Blackout.” Public Culture, vol. 17, no. 3, 2005, pp. 445–65.
Delueze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translated by Brian Massumi, U of Minnesota P, 1987.
“Fandom and Participatory Culture.” Subcultures and Sociology, Grinnell College, https://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultural-theory-and-theorists/fan....
Gries, Laurie E. Still Life with Rhetoric: A New Materialist Approach for Visual Rhetoric. Utah State UP, 2015.
Gries, Laurie E., and Collin Gifford Brooke, editors. Circulation, Writing, and Rhetoric. Utah State UP, 2018.
Gürsimsek, Ödül Akyapi. “Animated GIFs as Vernacular Graphic Design: Producing Tumblr Blogs.” Visual Communication, vol. 15, no. 3, Aug. 2016, pp. 329–349.
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Hayles Gledhill, Evan. “Tumblr and the Romantic Sentiment Album: Bricolage and the Culture of the Margins.” Tumblr and Fandom, special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, edited by Lori Morimoto and Louisa Ellen Stein, no. 27, 2018, https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2018.1213.
Hodder, Ian. “The Entanglements of Humans and Things: A Long-Term View.” New Literary History, vol. 45, no. 1, Winter 2014, pp. 19-36.
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Latour, Bruno. “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik.” Making Things Public, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel , MIT Press, 2005, pp. 14-44.
McCutchin, Carla. “Follow the World's Creators”: Negotiating the Value of GIF Art and Artists. 2017. University of Calgary, Master's thesis.
Potts, Liza. “Can’t Stop the Fandom: Writing Participation in the Firefly ’Verse.” Kairos, vol. 19, no. 3, 2015, http://technorhetoric.net/19.3/topoi/potts/.
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Price, Ludi, and Lyn Robinson. “Tag Analysis as a Tool for Investigating Information Behaviour: Comparing Fan-Tagging on Tumblr, Archive of Our Own and Etsy.” Journal of Documentation, ahead of print, 2021.
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Smol, Anna. “Adaptation as Analysis: Creative Work in an English Classroom.” Fandom as Classroom Practice, edited by Katherine Anderson Howell, U of Iowa P, 2018.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion, 2nd ed., edited by Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Williams, Rebecca. “Tumblr's GIF Culture and the Infinite Image: Lone Fandom, Ruptures, and Working Through on a Microblogging Platform.” Tumblr and Fandom, special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, edited by Lori Morimoto and Louisa Ellen Stein, no. 27, 2018, http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2018.1153.