auronlu: (Yuna's Final Aeon)
[personal profile] auronlu
While replying rather incoherently to [personal profile] vieralynn about fandom reactions to fic that deconstructs characters, I casually mentioned something that has been central to my understanding of fandom for years, including my own: totemism.

I first brought this up with my therapist while trying to articulate why I'd latch onto particular characters with whom I self-identified, or who inspired me. Our modern culture is fragmented and has no unifying mythology, religion, belief or symbol system, so we're left flailing for symbols that give us psychological satisfaction, a prop for meaning, and a sense of significance, identity, and, yes, love.

People love totems. They love their gods. They love their symbols. They are familiar and provide a sense of belonging, identity, coherence, stability.

So nowadays we have Uhura and Yoda and Nightfall/Redlance and Lady Gaga and [insert favorite character or ship here]. And as Vieralynn put it, fans get upset and lash out when you "chop down their sacred tree."

So a lot of fanfic is celebrating, communing with that sacred tree, whether it's a ship or a particular character. The fic is trying to get at the essence of the totem. Story is secondary; it's the resonance with and reaffirmation of the beloved totem that's paramount, like the Pharaoh having to run through the same heb sed ceremony every year to re-establish and maintain his reign, Egypt, and the universe. (As a child, I was drawn to ancient Egypt, and instinctively understood that culture's emphasis on cycles, repetition, and writing/drawing the same thing over and over to keep reality renewed, as if it might crumble and fall apart if you didn't keep defining it.)

Whereas there is an entirely different approach to fanfic which is deconstruction, gap-filling, grappling with the world and politics and unanswered questions, character flaws and problematic subtexts and things that canon didn't cover or explicate or justify adequately.

Totemic fandom is all about repeating what's loved, what's obvious, what's accepted by fandom consensus. Meta fandom is about exploring what's inchoate, unresolved, uncomfortable, or ambiguous.

I'm oversimplifying here and setting up a false dichotomy. But I wanted to throw the idea of fandom as totemism out there. There's probably a better word than totemism -- I am afraid I'm invoking the specter of bad anthropology by using the term -- but I can't think of a better word to express it.


ETA: I think fanart lends itself particularly well to totemic fandom; people love seeing the characters they love portrayed in a way that romanticizes/epitomizes them, whereas fanart that challenges accepted depictions is rare and usually does not get many favorable responses. Also, my first impression of Tumblr is that there's a high degree of totemic fandom, largely because of the focus on images (icons).

Date: 2013-02-23 09:07 am (UTC)
sarasa_cat: (phd_fran)
From: [personal profile] sarasa_cat


Yes, Tumblr does have a huge totemic component. Also, tumblr focuses on reblogs and likes. If you post an image of Lulu that I enjoy, I may like-heart it to up its count (make an offering to your local Lulu shrine?!?!?) or I could reblog it show that I want this totemic thing on my blog (shrine) and increase the chances that it receives more offerings. :D

Related: Some time ago I decided to only write a small set of characters which means that I cannot offer much, writing-wise, on prompts. Solution? I now make fanart! It's so much easier for me because I know how to create nice totemic representations.

Regarding your thoughts on fanart as romantic or otherwise, I agree although I think it is a little more complex.

Since joining tumblr a year ago, I follow fanart closely (mostly to study the art and think if I could make something like it). Some characters in my fandoms have large followings of fans who identify with an intense episode of suffering that the character went through. Those particular characters also receive a lot of art that romanticizes their suffering (the Passion of their Suffering ;)

But, some of these characters are also shipped in hateships and end up featured in art that sexualizes or kinkifies the suffering.

So, the same character may fly by my dash in a fluffy feel-good painting, a Passion of the Christ romanticism of that characters' suffering, and then in a kinky NSFW BSDM scene with in hateship.

people love seeing the characters they love portrayed in a way that romanticizes/epitomizes them, whereas fanart that challenges accepted depictions is rare and usually does not get many favorable responses

I purposefully created my dragon age big bang art to include one Very Romantic image (very well received, totemic) and one provocative image (also well received, but a graphic novel spread, and liked by completely different people--mostly other comicers). The provocative image was something out of the fanfic I illustrated *and* it is completely canon-compatible, but extremely non romantic (police brutality).

Date: 2013-03-14 01:08 am (UTC)
sathari: (A good book)
From: [personal profile] sathari
This, both the original post and this thread in particular, is a really interesting comparison--- it kind of reminds me of the Catholic idea of patron saints. You've got some people of the faith who want to venerate the saints in an almost mythological/archetypal sort of way, you've got others who want to examine their lives and works more critically, and both groups are being faithful in their own right although they can find themselves at cross purposes.
Edited Date: 2013-03-14 01:11 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-03-21 02:01 am (UTC)
sathari: (Fairytails tell children dragons can be)
From: [personal profile] sathari
Oh, I'm glad it makes sense! (I'm from the other side of the coin: I was raised around that particular tradition in Christianity, and--- I love your phrasing of this--- fear invoking the specter of appropriation when I use other religions'/cultures' terms, but by damn do I have the right to make heretical comparisons about the religion of my upbringing! LOL.)

...and I've kept putting off replying to this because I keep circling this idea about how the same idea (totems/patron saints/polytheism) finds similar-yet-distinct expressions in different cultures and how some of what you're noting in fandom is maybe one more version of that, but I can't quite nail the exact words for the idea, so I'm throwing it out there a few days late and a few dollars short anyway for the sake of possible discussion? Like, this is a thing people do, in subtly different forms across cultural groups?

Date: 2013-03-30 06:27 am (UTC)
sathari: (Fairytails tell children dragons can be)
From: [personal profile] sathari
Oh, I feel you on fuzzy!brain--- and let me say that your fuzzy!brain response was far more in-depth than my own fuzzy!brain response is likely to be! (Again, see the length of time it's taking me to respond... :/)

First, I could not agree more on the repeating patterns of human existence--- the broad common themes that you find across cultures as contrasted with the flavoring that the different experiences of respective groups of humans give to those common themes. The whole piece of “ways we are all alike as humans/ways we are like some humans but not others/ways each of us is unique”, if you will.

(That last piece, that unique-experience-within-species-and-culture piece, is demanding my attention here; what you said about the repeating themes that call to each of us interests me, because... it’s a thing for me, but it’s not a thing that fits neatly into existing classified archetypes? Your trickster example in particular got my attention, because there are trickster types I love and ones I could not possibly care less about, and yet at the same time I can find common themes in the types-I-love, even though I have yet to see them... um, documented?... as standard archetypes.)

Hah, I’m definitely cool with an agnostic/atheist perspective; even from a spiritually-oriented perspective there’s a lot to be said for attending to those common themes across cultures, those attempts to “get at” the truths of human experience on the one hand and--- okay, I see your agnostic perspective and I raise you a downright critical one!--- if not outright exploit those truths in terms of the way that they can be used to make large groups of people respond to them, then at least work with that, whether it’s the Catholic Church’s historical ability to operate as a world power or Square Enix’s ability to get us to cough up money for their product. (Which come to think of it is not dissimilar to some behaviors of various religious institutions, except SE and their fellow gaming companies are going straight for the profit-from-entertainment motive.)

Date: 2013-02-23 11:04 am (UTC)
samuraiter: (Default)
From: [personal profile] samuraiter
I am remembering, rather partially, a quote about artists having a thing for destroying idols. I wish I remembered the whole thing, as it feels rather pertinent.

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