Paranoia in Online Fandom: CMC, Girls' Aggression, and Overanalyzing the Texts

Jul. 16th, 2006 | 09:40 pm

Polonius:  What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet:    Words, words, words.
Polonius:  What is the matter, my lord?
Hamlet:    Between who?
Polonius:  I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.
Hamlet:    Slanders, sir...


Lately I seem to be thinking a great deal about the particular type of paranoiac thinking that often seems to characterize fandom interactions, and which most particularly seems always to rear its head whenever people become involved in on-line kerfuffles or disputes.

For example, I've noticed in the past that whenever I find myself in an on-line circle in which there's a lot of hostility going on, I can sometimes get into this compulsive habit of reading and re-reading posts and emails, subjecting passages of text to a kind of hyperactive scrutiny, as if searching them for some hidden or coded meaning. I used to think that I was the only one neurotic and paranoid enough to find myself doing this from time to time, but after talking to so many other people who recognize this behavior in themselves, I've come to believe that it's actually quite a common reaction to internet kerfuffles.

I've also noticed that there's a distinct tendency for people embroiled in a dispute to act as if they believe that there are these vast and sinister on-line "conspiracies" going on, even when actually there aren't. We see this tendency even more in fandom, I think, where you sometimes hear people talking about "minions" and "Inner Circles" and "cadres" and things like that, or likening people's on-line social behavior to remarkably Godwin-ish things (Nazism, slavery, war-time resistance, war-time treachery, etc.), with no apparent sense of irony at all.

My assumption about this paranoia and the behavior that it engenders always used to be that it was simply a side-effect of the nature of CMC itself. The other week, however, while I was at the beach, I read a book someone had recommended to me on the subject of girls' particular modes of aggression--Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel Simmons--and it was really shocking to me just how well many of the things that this book described were things that I strongly associate with online fandom dynamics. That in turn has made me wonder to what extent much of the "paranoiac" behavior that I've been seeing in on-line fandom might be an artifact not only of CMC, but also of the predominantly female demographics of the fandom circles in which I've travelled.

I also find myself wondering lately to what extent fandom itself, even aside from its gender demographics, might serve to reinforce certain types of paranoiac behavior due to nothing more than its own particular hermeneutics. It seems to me that fandom both valorizes and demands certain ways of interacting with source texts which may be inherently psychologically problematic once they are also extended to apply to the "text" of fandom and its participants, or to the "text" of the real world.

So if anyone really wants to hear it, here are some quite rambling thoughts on

Paranoia and CMCCollapse )

Paranoia and Feminine Modes of AggressionCollapse )

Paranoia and the Hermeneutics of FandomCollapse )

We're all paranoids here.


ETA:
Okay, while I think that the thread which devolved into a back-and-forth about one particular recent fandom kerfuffle was, indeed, an excellent illustration of many of the things I was talking about in this post, I also don't think that it was doing anything particularly beneficial for either the two people directly involved or for the overall discussion. I've therefore now screened that thread. There are plenty of other places you can go, if you want to continue to try to hash things out on that topic.

If people could refrain from getting into back-and-forths on the specifics of any recent fandom kerfuffles from now on in the comments here, I'd greatly appreciate that. It's not that I don't think that those conversations can never be beneficial; it's just that I really don't think this is the place for it. Thanks.

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