Wednesday, September 24, 2014

About "Race in Online Fantasy Fandom"

As has been noted, Helen Young's "Race in Online Fantasy Fandom: Whiteness on" was published in Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies on 12 August 2014. In the article, Young asserts that the online community at overwhelmingly conflates a particular "authorized" fandom (reliant upon acceptance of specific views including deliberate avoidance of racial discourse) and whiteness with varying degrees of explicitness. As she does so, she invokes treatments of the racist overtones of Tolkien and much fantasy literature and its fandom and argues that the ways in which whiteness is encoded into the fandom are primarily concerned with avoidance of accusations of racism on the part of Martin and his readers.

The article is, overall, convincing. Young makes excellent points and supports them well, and her reports seem to correspond with a number of other popular manifestations of racism that seeks to disguise itself as non-racism through obfuscation or avoidance. And her article is particularly relevant because of the increasing cultural cachet of Martin's fantasy series; criticism of that series and of the communities that grow up around it is tied to better understandings of the prevailing popular culture which generates and consumes it. That said, some issues do come to mind for further consideration, perhaps in a revision of the article as part of a larger collection, or perhaps in another paper altogether:

  • Given the US origin of Martin's text and Young's own comments regarding the entanglement of Martin and Hollywood, the question must be asked of how much of the fanbase is in or from the US. The tactics used to construct/encode whiteness among the "authorized" fans seems to run parallel to those used in mainstream US culture; the parallel suggests that the fans are themselves predominantly of the US.
  • The question of to what extent other largely online fanbases encode whiteness in ways parallel to that of also arises. The bronies offer one example, with one discussion of the fraught construction and "authorization" being discussed in Christopher Bell's Humanities Directory 1.1 article "The Ballad of Derpy Hooves: Transgressive Fandom in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic." (There is some overlap in the the demographics Young reports of fantasy fandom and what Bell identifies as those of bronies.)
  • The fandom seems to take on an almost religious nature in the descriptions Young provides. The extent to which it parallels the formation of religious communities and identities may be worth consideration; putting it alongside the more evangelical/proselytizing groups suggests itself as a useful exercise.
Admittedly, an article cannot treat all avenues of inquiry, and it is not a fault that it selects one focus to pursue and not another. It is, again, a well written piece that makes solid points worth consideration and offers a lens through which to examine other medievalist works and their receptions. (The thought occurs that Martin is spawning imitators much as Tolkien did, and examining their responses to fantasy/medievalist tropes as Martin iterates them suggests itself as worth doing.) And insofar as it provokes further questions and thus, it is to be hoped, more discussion, Helen Young's "Race in Online Fantasy Fandom: Whiteness on" is a piece of scholarship well worth attention.


  1. The owner of, Elio Garcia, is a Hispanic man.

  2. Dragon, it is good to see you post, and I hope that you will continue to be part of the conversation on the Society blog.

    To respond to your point directly, however, the fact that García identifies as Cuban-American, per his user page on A Wiki of Ice and Fire, does not mean that the community described does not act as Young notes. Too, there is some conflation of such categories as "Hispanic" and "White," as Pew notes happening, here, as well as historical efforts to have Hispanic populations classified as white, as noted here and in other places. (Comments about "light-skin privilege" among Latin@/Chican@ communities come to mind as worth considering.) My own experience, growing up and living in central Texas and marrying a woman of decidedly Hispanic heritage, as well as living and working in New York City for several years, also suggests that many seek to "lighten" their families, bespeaking a valorization of whiteness in generally in accord with Young's findings.