written December 3, 2000


The Infantilization of Fandom

by Arduinna


I have suddenly noticed a disturbing trend. Or maybe it isn't a trend, and isn't so sudden -- but I suddenly connected some things that I wasn't expecting to.

I'm sure everyone is aware that there's a tendency to infantilize characters in fanfic. Blair becomes tiny enough to fit in Jim's pocket, and whines and cries and sniffles a lot. Doyle shrinks by several inches, both in height and in shoulder width, and likewise whines and cries and sniffles a lot. Mulder cries a lot -- okay, okay, Mulder does cry a lot, we have to give them that one. Daniel suddenly is slender and willowy, is insecure and afraid, is "the boy", and, yes, cries a lot. Illya, my god, has been reduced in at least one story to not even having an adult penis: yes, he's doomed to having an itty-bitty baby wee-wee, because the poor boy never really hit puberty.

It goes on in pretty much every fandom. Lots of fans dislike it intensely, other fans obviously like it a lot.

Okay, whatever. It's a fact of fanfic, it happens.

One thing I have just noticed and connected to this, though, is that fans also have a habit of infantilizing other things.


Like, say, stories. I can't count the number of times I've seen someone say that people shouldn't say anything even remotely negative about a story (right down to "spell-checking this would have been a good idea"), because every story is its author's "baby", the author's precious child. Authors send these infants out into the world and say, "Here's my baby. You are now responsible for taking care of it, for making sure that it's warm and fed and clothed, whether I provided lunch money and a blankie or not." We may not point out that it has no clothing because that's rude to do to a child (and, somehow, hurtful to the parent, who didn't know the child was unclothed and rather than being grateful at being told her kid really does need a new pair of shoes, instead says "how dare you notice that, and imply that I didn't put clothes on that naked little baby!").

So. Not only are characters infantilized in stories, the stories themselves are infantilized. They will cry if you look at them wrong, they are cute and wonderful and we should all love them because they are infants.

Oh-kay. I don't get this. I really, really don't. They're stories. Not babies. Babies need to be coddled and loved and admired not because they are the children of their parents, but because they are tiny little people who have to be protected so they can grow up, and who grow up far, far healthier if they are loved as babies. Stories don't grow up, they just are.

But wait, it doesn't stop there. No, really, it doesn't.


In a recent conversation on a slash fanfic discussion list, I heard someone explaining why we shouldn't tell authors why their stories aren't good.

Not because the stories themselves are babies. Nope, not this time.

This time, it's because the AUTHORS are babies.

Yes, you read that right.

Authors are like babies who occasionally stumble and fall. And who in their right mind would look at a just-learning-to-walk baby who fell down and say, "Hey, you fell down. You have to stop tripping over your own feet like that"? Any decent person would pick that tiny child up, set her back on her feet, dust her off, pat her on her little head, and say, "That was a good try, yes it was!"

So, you see, that's what readers should do. Because that's what authors need: for readers to blindly cheer them on, no matter what -- they are, after all, nothing more than babies taking their first steps. This, btw, was said in reference to an author who has been posting stories steadily for two years or more, so there isn't even the excuse that it was a brand-new author to make this argument -- well, nothing could make it really acceptable, but perhaps "less utterly horrifying".

I can't even begin to describe my reaction to that. (She said, then babbled on trying to do just that.)

I am appalled at the thought that there are people out there who think of fanfic authors as babies, as infants who literally cannot take care of themselves, who cannot handle being told that they fell without bursting into tears, who need "the adults" (i.e., the readers) to walk around after them and pick them up and dust them off. Personally, I stop doing that sort of thing for actual, real babies after they're about -- oh, two or three. By then they know how to walk, and they know how to get back up again. Apparently, they're more capable than grown fans in the eyes of some people...

I mean, aren't these authors posting to adult archives and lists? Doesn't that imply that they consider themselves adults, or at least capable of participating in an adult world?

Can people not see how OFFENSIVE it is to assume that an adult is no more than a baby? To assume this? In case they can't: I'm an author, and I find this incredibly offensive.

Can people not see how OFFENSIVE it is to tell me that it's my responsibility to take care of these authors who can't take care of themselves? If they can't take care of themselves -- they shouldn't be playing in traffic.

I am just... appalled.

~ fin ~

Feedback of any sort, from one line to detailed crit, is always welcome, at arduinna at trickster dot org.


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