Where is all the erotic "Succession" fan fiction?
Read to the end for an incredible radio segment
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Betsy Ladyzhets is a reporter who has been doing some really great data journalism on COVID-19. A few weeks ago, she pitched me an idea for a column about how platforms are changing the way fandoms work. She said writing about the world of Succession fan fiction would be a nice little reprieve from her usual beat. I thought it was a great idea. So I’ll let Betsy take it from here!
The Platform Weirdness Of The Succession Fandom
“I’d castrate you and marry you in a heartbeat,” Tom Wambsgans says to Greg Hirsch in a recent episode of HBO’s Succession.
The two characters are not in a romantic relationship (technically), but anyone stumbling across the show’s fandom on Twitter, Tumblr, or TikTok could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Soon after the episode aired, fans shared clips and screenshots, comparing Matthew MacFayden (Tom)’s acting in this scene to his best-known role prior to Succession, Darcy in the 2005 film Pride and Prejudice.
The fandom’s most popular Twitter account is easily “no context succession,” which, as its name implies, shares screenshots depicting singular lines or snippets. The account has over 150,000 followers. Despite the show’s massive Twitter following, though, Succession is relatively unpopular when it comes to one important metric: fan fiction.
The show has under 1,000 fanfics listed on the popular fanfic site Archive of Our Own (AO3). Tom/Greg, despite fitting all of the qualifications for a popular relationship — two mildly attractive white guys with some degree of chemistry in the source material — star in just under 300 fanfics. (To give you some sense of scale here: “Destiel,” the popular Supernatural ship, appears in over 100,000.)
Succession’s popularity — and corresponding lack of fan fiction — represents a change in the type of content that drives today’s fandoms. Platforms are changing the content that fans are making. For example, if you give fans a platform designed for collaborative video-making like TikTok, it turns out they create very different content than fans were making ten years ago, which was largely long analysis posts on blogs.
In the late 2000s, fandom looked and felt pretty different. People congregated on sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr, which brought the feel of message boards to wider groups of users. Initially, on LiveJournal, “there was no local or native embedding of images,” says Stitch, a fandom reporter and commentator. To host fan art or other images, fans had to link out to a third-party site; fanfic and textual analysis were naturally more popular on the platform. Tumblr made image-sharing easier, but popular posts on the platform still tended towards text — even gifsets would often have analysis underneath. As I see it, one of the best examples of this was the community that sprung up around Skyfall in late 2012. Yes, Skyfall, the James Bond movie.
See, the production team of this movie cast Ben Whishaw as Q, a tech genius who helps Daniel Craig’s Bond complete his mission. Or, as legions of fandom-ready viewers immediately saw him: Number One Shippable Twink.
A couple of scenes with the two characters together provided enough of a hint at chemistry for fans to determine that they needed to fuck. 00Q (as Bond/Q was formally known) is the subject of almost 8,000 fanfics on AO3. More than 30 times the number of fics for Succession’s Tom/Greg! Fans of the ship spun up elaborate tropes, such as Bond breaking into Q’s apartment — inspired by Bond breaking into M’s apartment in Skyfall — and even incorporated him into the SuperWhoLock universe. Q was posited to be the secret third Holmes brother.
The 00Q fandom actually got a belated win in the new Bond movie, No Time to Die. At one point in the film, Q prepares for a date with another man. But I would be seriously surprised if that “gay moment” was tied to the fandom in any way. Another core principle of fandom ten years ago was that fans rarely wanted the writers or actors behind their favorite media properties to know about their interpretations.
Years ago, “there was a horror of sharing fanwork with creators or actors and many fans wanted to keep that fourth wall up between the creative and fan sides,” says Claudia Rebaza, a communications staffer at the Organization for Transformative Works, which runs AO3. Fan conventions, zines, and message boards were typically fan-only spaces.
In 2021 fandoms, on the other hand, it is pretty common for actors to know their fans’ favorite ships. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram, which enable direct contact between fans and the subjects of their obsessions, definitely help with this. But fans can also meet their favorite stars at conventions and engage with a rising number of fan-blogs, fan-podcasts, and other fan-centric media.
When it comes to Succession, the actors are clearly pretty aware of the fandom. When asked in a recent interview which character’s ass he would check out, Matthew MacFayden said, “Greg! Yeah, has to be.”
These platforms also make it easier for fans to talk to each other — specifically in ways that drum up infighting, turning discourse itself into content. On TikTok, fans can easily add onto each other’s videos with criticism. While on Twitter, screenshot-sharing accounts can blow seemingly-innocuous posts out of proportion.
There’s also the fact these kinds of fanworks are just easier to make. It takes a few seconds to take and post a screenshot, while writing a long fanfic takes months. People might have moved on to the next big movie or Netflix release by the time your work is ready to read. Even fancams are relatively easy to make now, thanks to TikTok and other video editing apps. [Ed. note: more on that in a sec] Plus, images and videos may be preferred content for international fans who might not be comfortable writing long pieces in English, Rebaza says.
If one looks at the flood of fancams, no context screenshot accounts, and TikTok explainers, it can feel like fandom is now less about exploring the things you love about a piece of media — and more about evangelizing the media to others. (Why else would K-pop fans post videos of their favorite groups under unrelated viral Tweets?) Still, as Rebaza points out, plenty of people are still writing fanfiction; the medium is just a little less visible now than it was in, say, 2012.
Since spring 2020, she says, “we've seen traffic surge at our Archive, and while that has slowed somewhat, it's not going away.” The pandemic is bringing more people to fandoms. Whether they’re learning about new shows through social media or returning to old favorites, people do seem to be finding solace from our current hellscape in fictional worlds.
—by Betsy Ladyzhets
Hi, Ryan here. Pretty good piece right?! Ready to go a little deeper? Garbage Resident Allegra’s column this week is about a specific form of platform-enabled fandom: The fancam. I am, honestly, incredibly relieved she wanted to tackle this. Fancams have been on my list for ages, but I have been completely intimidated by the topic.
Also, members of the Garbage Day Discord recommended that Allegra’s columns get their own banner so people know she’s popping up. So I whipped one together for her. And, yes, that is the DashCon ball pit.
Rise of the Fancam
At one point in recent internet history, “fancam” meant a very specific thing: a video taken by a pop music fan with their own camera at a concert, with the connotation that as the fan, they would be focusing on a specific idol the entire time, versus cutting between shots like an official or objective video would. (You might remember them as the type of videos that K-pop stans weaponized in the form of reply-spam as a political tool last year.)
Sometime in the last few years the meaning of the word has expanded, and “fancam” is now synonymous with “edit” — both words being used to refer to the Twitter/Instagram versions of what millennials might remember as “AMVs” or “fanvids”. TV or movie clips edited to music, sometimes with artistic filters laid over. These videos are short, punchy, and totally addicting to watch.
The accessibility of mobile video editing apps like VITA, Capcut, Prequel, and VideoStar have meant that anyone with a smartphone can quickly learn to put together their own. This has revolutionized the field in the same way that I imagine the introduction of Photoshop Elements changed the forum-signature game in the 2000s. You can find incredibly well-edited, engrossing fancams for pretty much any character or ship by typing a name + “fancam” into the Twitter search bar. Trent Crimm! Father Paul! Jareth the Goblin King! Benson & Stabler!
But in my opinion, the best fancams around are currently being produced by the Succession fandom. It might surprise you to hear that Succession, HBO’s prestige drama about feuding billionaires, has a thriving fanbase of Twitter teens and twenty-somethings, all highly engaged with the show in the exact same way you can find them dedicated to more traditionally fannish fare like Hannibal or My Hero Academia. There is, though. And they love making fancams. They love Tom/Greg set to Mitski. They’re horny for Stewy and for Gerri. They stan Kendall. Even Roman and Shiv’s sibling relationship has been given the fancam treatment.
It is pretty useless to bother asking a question like “is this all serious.” Measuring down to the millimeter the ironic distance any given 17-year-old with a handle like @kendall_dilf has from the object of their obsession is way less fun than sitting back and letting Karl and Frank’s love story unfold while Better Than Revenge by Taylor Swift plays in the background.
What is it about Succession that has unlocked the sort of fandom that other shows much more actively aimed at this demographic would die to have? I have no idea, but the idiosyncrasies and general toxicity of the characters is probably genuinely refreshing after years of focus-grouped superhero blandness. More generally, what this Cambrian explosion of fancam creativity tells me is that in a few years, there are going to be a lot of super-talented video editors and motion graphic designers entering the workforce who cut their teeth on setting clips of Kendall Roy to “Toxic” by Britney Spears. Which I am very excited about.
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A Good Tweet
A Good YouTube Video
SPOILER: He does, in fact, build a Billy the Big Mouth Bass synth and, holy shit, is it sick.
Another Good YouTube Video
Ever wondered what it would be like if Columbo investigated Light Yagami from the anime Death Note? You’re in luck, voice actor Gianni Matragrano put together a little video exploring that very idea! And here’s a Tumblr thread with even more context for this.
A Good Meme
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s an incredible radio segment.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose. Unless you found them in the guest columns. Those aren’t on purpose.***