Week Two | Class Struggle and Stigma in Fandom/ Fandom as Personal Identity

This week, we discussed the idea of Fandom as a way of claiming personal identity as well as the class systems and stigmas that are found within the subcultures of Fandom. To corner-in these topics, we read Shooter Boys and At-Risk Girls (Molly Crabapple) and The Logic of Stupid Poor People (Dr. Tresse McMillan Cottom) that identify and express some unique perspectives on how these movements can affect those who belong to these specific fandoms and those that are on the outside.

In Molly Crabapple’s article, Shooter Boys and At-Risk Girls, she breaks down the concept of childhood and adolescence being a rough time for a good portion of youth regardless of the idealism placed upon being a child in society today — she explains that even in her own youth in coming into adulthood, she found solace and peace within herself by rebelling from societal norms and finding her way within books, grunge, drawings, poetry, and being labeled ‘anti-social’ by most. Friends were not easy to make and relating to what was considered ‘normal’ by society was just not going to happen for her. Belonging was tough, and was found within her Fandoms — Fandoms which today are labeled icons for those who could easily participate in school shooting due to historical occurrences are isolating those that feel isolated and making the children feel even more isolated by deeming their interests threatening.

As a society, we have relied on and leveraged stereotypes to create the illusion that we know how to solve problems. Because some kids in Columbine wore trench coats, trench coats are immediately considered the icon and identifier to a potential risk to the system. This and other coping behaviors of the difficulties of fitting in to generic social norms — including drawings, poetry, art, and pretty much any way of expressing ones’ emotions outside of what society has in mind of being a well-behaved child — creates an uneasy feeling for the ‘authorities’ of education systems that want to keep the illusion that their environment is indeed safe, kind, and free of trouble. This illusion is also a utopian idealistic way of viewing the world — because, unfortunately we are never fully safe. There is no way to really know what is going through someone’s mind, and how the feeling of isolation can turn into other emotions and eventually shift into a dangerous situation.

It’s unfortunate, yes. The largest issue here is that those in authoritarian positions are trying to solve the problem at a micro-scale, identifying what others and myself think is the incorrect issues. Instead of let’s say, looking at the source of the issues — why would kids be acquiring weapons and making the decision to use them in the first place — they look at how to try to identify and solve via creating and following stereotypes crafted by the media and society. A really great way of prevention, which has been incorporated by The Center Nonviolent Communication and waldorf-based preschools and elementary schools, has been to incorporate the education of emotions & feelings and how to express them as oppose to suppress them, which is what main stream society wants us to do.

Showing emotions or expressing feelings that are not considered happy or joy are immediately rejected by what’s been ingrained into our social structures and class systems. We must appear ‘fine and good’ in order to be good citizens. It’s honestly getting old, and the world would just be so much safer if we adjusted this antiquated expression and rejoiced by creating space for ourselves and others to feel safety in the place of sharing the pains of being a human being.

In contrast, within social class systems, Dr. Tesse McMillan Cottom articulates the reasons why displaying the icon that holds value or stigmatism can create signals that one can fit in to a social class that they may not necessarily fit in with. In The Logic of Stupid Poor People, Dr. Tesse McMillan Cottom articulates that an item that would be considered as luxury by one class can be used by another class as a tool to fit in, prove belonging, or to fit in to a system that they may not typically belong with. A handbag that costs $2000 or more could be a necessity to some — showing that they understand and have the ‘uniform’ that creates this illusion.

The idea of faking it until you make it is pretty spot on in this commentary — in society, if we have the correct attire for a specific event then we belong at that event and will most likely be able to continue going to events of similar class status. We become the class that we resemble to the outside world. Even if you don’t truly belong, you can appear to have higher status, wealth, culture, and taste that will make you stand out from lower classes in society. It’s almost subversive in a way; baked into our ways and societal norms like the convection ovens of our social systems have provided us understanding. As we develop and create our communities of friends and the alike, we find that if someone doesn’t quite belong in the class structures that we have been conditioned in, then we can either work to bring them up to speed or leave them behind. It’s unfortunate and 100% unfair. But it where we’ve landed in society at this time.

In my previous work experience, it was very clear that if you didn’t fit into the culture that was formed then you had no reason to work with that particular company. This wasn’t everywhere that I’ve worked, but I will say that fitting into company culture was so important to most. Even at the hiring process, I had discussions with recruiters and team leaders who would create systems in order to hire primarily ivy-league educated graduates and by no means would they ever consider someone who didn’t graduate college. Somewhere in this designed system, we culturally have failed to look at the person and their experiences as a whole and have created these systematic norms that isolate and prevent people of particular social and class structures from joining their environments.

Personally, I’ve always done my research; worn the ‘uniform’ of choice, and designed my presentation to align with company culture. I’ve had great success here — however, my particular background, ethnicity, and pre-assumptions and biases made by the hiring managers, has supported my career and direction thus far. It’s everywhere, unavoidable, and potentially the only way we will live in this world until our last days. There are other options — but they involve removing oneself from the ‘matrix’ of society. Not a popular option, but can be wholesome and full of joy to some, mostly. But then again, this is also a utopian society, where inner rule structures exist and limitations are inevitable. For myself, I’m finding my balance between these two polar opposite ways, really taking into account honoring who I am, my needs, and overall goals.