One of the most interesting and unexpected experiences I had at ClexaCon was the time I spent observing attendees watching fan videos. The corner of the room where I spent much of my time conducting interviews was also the corner where the television and couches were located. For the entirety of the convention, the TV played fan-made videos on a loop, and attendees would congregate around the couches, either to slow down and relax, or because they couldn’t resist watching the videos that were playing. The videos depicted many “ships” from various television shows and movies, the most popular of them including The 100 (The CW, 2014-), Supergirl (The CW, 2015-), Once Upon a Time (ABC, 2011-2018), Lost Girl (SyFy, 2010-2016), and Wynona Earp (SyFy, 2016-). (See my own “multiship” fan video here). The reactions I observed to these videos clearly illustrated to me the intense, intimate, and often contentious relationships queer female fans have to their favorite content.
As I stood there silently soliciting interviews, I began to notice the reactions that these fan videos elicited from fans. As people walked by the TV, they would often yell – in excitement or in horror, but often the latter – when they saw a particular fan video playing on the screen. Below are some of the most evocative reactions to these videos.
- Someone walks by and sees a very emotional Clexa video playing and yells: “WHO MADE THIS???? WHO MADE THIS? I’M GONNA FIND HER!” (The video is one by MissLane, a legendary Clexa vidder).
- Someone walks by and a video about Lexa is playing. They yell: “SHE’S SO SOFT!”
- A Sanvers (from Supergirl) video starts playing and a group of people nearby yell in unison “NOOOO!!!!!!!” “Walk away, walk away!” Then they come back: “Why are we trash, why are we all trash?” When a third Sanvers video in a row plays: “Why are we so simple?” “We have such low standards!”
- A video about Tamsin from Lost Girl plays. Someone walks by and says “I don’t wanna see it again!” They put their hands over their eyes. “She’s the reason I’m getting a Valkyrie tattoo!”
- A Swan Queen (from Once Upon a Time) video plays and someone pushes their friend away saying “don’t look, don’t look, don’t look!” As an explanation for this behavior, they tell those of us sitting by the TV, “it’s triggering.” We nod in understanding.
These emotional scenes illustrate how attached many queer female fans are to their favorite pieces of media. (Indeed, as I was conducting an interview I had to turn away from the screen when a Carol (2015) video started playing, lest I forget all my interview questions). These emotional outbursts also reveal how queer female fandom is so often tied up in grief and sadness as well as joy, partially because so many of these stories end badly. As such, issues with the writing and production of these series often cause fans to have a complicated relationship with this media (as illustrated by the Sanvers fans above), one that can at times oscillate between love and hate. Of course, for those fans who made the journey to ClexaCon it is clear love came out on top in this equation, as it often does when media becomes this personal. As these fans illustrate, it’s their passion for this media that sustains these fandoms, even as shows end, characters die, and fans move on (or not) to the next best thing.
Indeed, these emotional scenes illustrate some of the insights I found in Chapter 2 regarding melancholia. I have found in my research that there is often a desire among queer female fans to wallow in sadness or grief for some time, despite modern psychiatry’s understanding that it is perhaps not healthy to do so. On the other hand, it seems to me that these videos can also provide a sense of catharsis for fans, allowing them to fully reconcile with and live out the complicated feelings they have about this media.
In this vein, these reactions illustrate the contentious relationship many queer fans have with the producers of their favorite media. Because so many of these queer relationships end badly (either because a character dies, or the relationship ends abruptly because of one of the actresses’ short-term contracts – see Sanvers), fans may have loving feelings towards the couple or the fandom, while also viewing the show itself very critically. This explains fans’ reactions to the Tamsin video (she died), as well as the Swan Queen video (they were never “canon,” and Swan Queen fans haven’t always been treated well by those involved in the series). Thus, while watching these videos can be an engaging and cathartic experience, it can also be “triggering,” as the viewer in reaction #5 puts it. Fans’ complicated relationships with this media also illustrate the place of activism within this fandom, with organizations such as LGBT Fans Deserve Better (which formed right after Lexa’s death) leading the conversation about how to hold media producers accountable for their actions. Indeed, the emotional resonances of this media are often wrapped up in personal, communal, and even political concerns, though initial responses to these videos often occur on a visceral and instinctual level.
Below are some examples of videos that were shown at ClexaCon.