“Don’t Ask Me About My Agenda” or the Silencing Discussions of Racism in Reactionary and Transformative Fandoms

Curator's Note

Transformational fandom has generally been thought of as a liberatory form of fandom by many fan scholars (Jenkins 1992; Coppa 2008; De Kosnik 2016). This is because of the early inclusion of queer content that became prevalent in many fandoms and the centering of women’s voices. However, more recently, fan scholars have moved away from this designation and have begun interpreting transformational fandom as an extension of reactionary fandoms (Pande 2016; Morimoto 2018; Johnson 2020; Stanfill 2020). In my research with Megan Condis and Mel Stanfill, we explored how the subreddit for reactionary comics fan group Comicsgate, r/WerthaminAction, and fan fictions from Archive of Our Own were similar in how they determined what topics should and shouldn’t be included in fandom.

While r/WerthamInAction is a centralized space to talk about the infiltration of progressive ideas in comics, we chose the tag, “Don’t Like, Don’t Read” on Archive of Our Own (AO3) as a way to find fics where readers discussed potentially political issues in the comments. Through examining how these two groups of fans discuss content that they saw as inappropriately political, we found shared political views: while the Comicsgate subreddit has a firm foothold in the alt-right, and AO3 fans superficially participated in social justice, the latter also treated racism as an inappropriate topic for discussion in fan spaces.
Our research shows that the two groups strive to keep politics—especially those regarding race—out of fandom. Moreover, it’s difficult for these views to be challenged because the culture of both platforms discourages such discussion: “Don’t Like, Don’t Read” signals that debate is not welcome, while Reddit’s upvoting and downvoting mechanisms allow users to technologically enforce existing norms. Strict divisions in both spaces with regard to what is legitimate debate vs. political and unwelcome both reflect the boundaries of the community and enforce them. That is, those who see media as a potential site for engaging complex topics, who are concerned about how representations may reinforce inequality—or who even want to discuss such positions—will tend not to be welcome in the spaces we explore.


Image 1: Mockingbird comic from Marvel Comics. This image and Mockingbird’s shirt is a highly discussed image for Comicsgaters.

Image 2: In 1949, DC Comics distributed this image to schools as a book cover, in association with the Institute for American Democracy, an offshoot of the Anti-Defamation League.



Coppa, Francesca. 2008. “Women, ‘Star Trek,’ and the Early Development of Fannish Vidding.” Transformative Works and Cultures 1: n.p.

De Kosnik, Abigail. 2016. Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. New York, NY: Routledge.

Johnson, Poe. 2020. “Playing with Lynching: Fandom Violence and the Black Athletic Body.” Television & New Media 21 (2): 169–83. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476419879913.

Morimoto, Lori. 2018. “Ontological Security and the Politics of Transcultural Fandom.” A Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies, 257–75.

Pande, Rukmini. 2018. Squee from the Margins: Fandom and Race. University of Iowa Press.

Stanfill, Mel. 2020. “Introduction: The Reactionary in the Fan and the Fan in the Reactionary.” Television & New Media 21 (2): 123–34. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476419879912.

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