Latina fans agitate respectability: Rethinking antifans and antifandom

Yessica Garcia-Hernandez

University of California, San Diego, California, United States

[0.1] Abstract—This piece proposes that the fields of ethnic studies, fat studies, and sexuality studies (with a focus on racialized sexualities) can help us think about antifans and antifandom from a different lens. I utilize identity hermeneutics to analyze some of my own fan sites that center fat women of color, nonnormative sexualities, and Latina deviance. I offer the heuristic of agitation and agitated discourse to think through the hater (antifan) comments that Latinas encounter online about their fat racialized flesh.

[0.2] Keywords—Ethnic studies; Fan studies; Fat studies; Porn studies; Racialized sexuality

Garcia-Hernandez, Yessica. 2019. "Latina Fans Agitate Respectability: Rethinking Antifans and Antifandom." In "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color," edited by Abigail De Kosnik and andré carrington, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 29.

[0.3] For the fan, popular culture becomes a crucial ground on which he or she can construct mattering maps. Within these mattering maps, investments are enabled which empower individuals in a variety of ways. They may construct relatively stable moments of identity, or they may identify places which, because they matter, take on an authority of their own…By making certain things or practices matter, the fan "authorizes" them to speak for him or her, not only as a spokesperson but also as surrogate voices (as when we sing along to popular songs).

—Lawrence Grossberg, "Is There a Fan in the House? The Affective Sensibility of Fandom"

1. Introduction

[1.1] What happens when your racialized fan investments, the mattering maps that you value, that empower you, and that shape your identity, are often under attack, judged, devalued, policed, or viewed as unproductive and deviant? What happens when your surrogate voice, the singer, porn star, or artist of whom you are a fan, is constantly attacked for her sexual looseness, drunkenness, fatness, and "shameless promotion of single parenthood" (Cohen 2010, 58)? What happens when this star dies and your posthumous consumption of her, through listening to her music, performing her, watching her on TV, is the deviant trace that keeps her alive and interpellates you into her deviancy?

[1.2] As an acafan of music, porn, burlesque, and many more raunchy subcultures, I constantly ponder these questions because the racialized mattering maps that I analyze are often attacked by antifans for agitating respectability politics. The racialized and working-class fan engagements that I write about are usually pathologized, viewed as broken, disgusting, problematic, and therefore politically valueless. Thus, a framework of antifandom is very useful to understanding the reasons for these agitations. In my (2016) research on Jenni Rivera's fandom and antifandom, I analyze why her haters attack her and how her fans become interpellated in these attacks. In my (2018) research on Gordibuenas and Latina BBW (big beautiful women) porn stars, I use a similar methodology and pay attention to why antifans attack these women's fat bodies. In both of my research sites, antifans identify the porn stars' fat bodies as a reason for their troll comments. In this paper, I elaborate briefly on how I engage antifandom and why I think the fields of ethnic studies, fat studies, and sexuality studies have a lot to offer fan studies, particularly our theorization of antifandom. I propose the heuristic of agitation and agitated responses as a way to critically analyze troll comments by antifans.

[1.3] Rebecca Wanzo's (2015) theory of identity hermeneutics has been influential to my theorization of agitated responses and my own remapping of the field of fan studies. In her groundbreaking article, Wanzo argues that there is a rich history of Black fan criticism and acafandom that is "largely invisible in some of the most cited works in American fan studies" (¶ 1.2). Wanzo believes that one of the reasons why race is neglected in fan studies is that it challenges some claims and desires. For Wanzo, Gerald Early's (1988) work on sports, Jacqueline Bobo's (1995) work on culture, Robin R. Means Coleman's (1998) research on comedy, Jefferey A. Brown's (2000) work on superheroes, and Tricia Rose's (1994) and Imani Perry's (2004) work on hip-hop both supplement and obfuscate key methods, theories, and arguments in the field of fan studies. As such, Wanzo argues, fan studies scholars need to incorporate an identity hermeneutics approach, which places a particular identity—in this case, African American identity—at the center of reading or interpretative practices.

[1.4] Since my focus is Latina women fans, I explore the politics of excessiveness that the literature of Latina sexuality also offers fan studies. This literature makes visible that, akin to Black women, Latinas are "discursively constructed as always completely other to Western normativity" (Wanzo 2015, ¶ 2.5). Bridging ethnic studies and fan studies allows me to argue that fandom and antifandom toward Latina music celebrities and fans cannot be separated from the process of racialization in which they have been inscribed by histories of colonialism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments. Thus, centering Latina fans forces us to acknowledge the "dialectical relationship to normativity" (¶ 2.4) heretofore unacknowledged by fan studies—but which fan studies can no longer ignore.

2. The antifan in literature

[2.1] Jonathan Gray (2003) argues that we have to analyze antifans and nonfans in order to understand the interaction of media and fan texts. Gray compares texts to atoms: just as atoms are always colliding and intermingling, texts are always "intersected and interrupted by dense networks of intertextuality" (68). At the center of an atom exists a "stable nucleus," which Gray describes as the text and the "closer reader" (69). In this analogy, the fan is the proton for its "positive charge" and the antifan is in the electron cloud for strongly disliking "a given text or genre, considering it inane, stupid, morally bankrupt and/or aesthetic drivel" (71). Gray states that critics assume that antifans make poor informants because they know little about the text and do not watch it or listen to it. However, Gray insists that antifans are important to study because they "must find cause for their dislike in something" (71).

[2.2] In popular music studies, Liz Giufree (2014) investigates three types of antifandom: industrial, creative/artistic, and personal. Personal antifandom is similar to Gray's (2003) framework, where antifans create their own dislike for a text, artist, or genre. Industrial antifandom acknowledges that the infrastructure of popular music has created the antifan for marketing purposes. An example of an artist who used antifandom as a marketing tool was Elvis Presley, whose manager, Colonel Tom Parker, sold both "I love Elvis" and "I hate Elvis" badges. Another example of this type of antifandom is the "perceived competition between bands" who are "positioned as the direct antithesis of one another" (Giufree 2014, 55). Creative antifandom includes attacks against song lyrics or music videos founded on "a clear ideological rejection of the music and artists" (56). In her study of reggaeton music, Michelle Rivera notes that the antireggaeton moment is caused by "generational differences in forging distinctive tastes in music" (2011, 288). Rivera argues that Herbet Gans's concept of taste culture, particularly the power struggle between high and low culture, expands to the study of popular music because "standards of high and low tastes are often debated" in the antireggaeton blogsites that she studies (292). Moreover, Rivera shows how the visual culture of antifans is gendered. For instance, one of the antireggaeton images that she analyzes is directed against el perreo dance, associating it with "ignorance, foolishness, and sexual depravity" (294). Rivera underscores how the woman who is perriando "is read as submissive and sexually available, creating discourse which also polices female sexuality" (295). Because perriando has created a moral panic relating to female sexuality, "the discourse of reggaeton as corrupting influence particularly targets women within a punitive patriarchal narrative about sexuality and decency in public spaces" (295). Rivera's focus on the targeting of female sexuality is relevant for my work on antifans because it shows that antifandom is not only about the music but also about dancers' bodies, flesh, and deviant acts. Following Raymond Williams's (1982) and Mark Duffett's (2013) method of keywording as a heuristic device, in the rest of this paper, I examine antifandom through what I call the agitations of antifans and their agitated responses.

3. Haters get agitated: Using the heuristic of agitation to rethink antifandom

[3.1] Merriam-Webster defines to agitate as a feeling of disturbance. The vernacular usage of this term relates agitation to anger. While in most contexts, the word agitate carries a negative connotation, in ethnic studies, it often carries a positive connotation, as in, "You agitate the status quo." As such, Jenni Rivera, April Flores, Sofia Rose, and their fans can be considered to agitate, while those who police their so-called transgressions get agitated. What I find intriguing is why the antifandom for these women is not only about their cultural texts but also about their own and their fans' bodies, ontologies, and existences. While the phrase agitated responses refers to the hater comments that antifans (or nonfans) make toward these artists and their fans, agitation is the carnal disgust that antifans display when they police the behavior of fat sex-positive women and their fans. Agitation is the disaffection—the visceral aggression or enmity—that people who hate these artists express when they write, say, or gesture agitated responses toward the artists. Of course, my own positionality as a fat Latina acafan is central to my theorization of this heuristic because I am aware of the high political stakes here. I am also aware of the epistemic violence that emerges when we do not take this type of antifandom seriously, and I wish to identify it as an act of hate discourse that is hypervisible to fat racialized subcultures.

[3.2] My research is identifying a pattern regarding who receives these agitated responses: queer fat women of color. Let's take, for instance, Latina BBW porn star April Flores, who on November 21, 2017, posted two photos on Instagram (@theaprilflores) responding to the agitated responses that she was receiving calling her disgusting. Her post said,

[3.3] I just had to block users & delete comments from several people for describing me as "disgusting" & other terms that were meant to be hurtful. This is not new territory for me & it actually doesn't hurt. It does however, validate the IMPORTANCE of my work & REPRESENTATION. These people give me strength and motivate me to keep putting my FAT, NAKED, SEXUAL self out there! To all my fellow fats doing the work, THANK You! I know dealing with these fools isn't always easy, but our work matters to so many people!

[3.4] Her post shows that fat racialized sexuality is viewed as a threat to these antifans because it disrupts ideologies of normative sexuality. As Flores states in Fat Girl (2013), fat women are not widely considered to be beautiful and sexy. Therefore, the agitation here is that fat, sex-positive women are feeling themselves, as the Black fat-positive singer Lizzo (2016) states in "Scuse Me": "I don't see nobody else/'Scuse me while I feel myself/'Scuse me while I feel myself."

[3.5] The term agitated response acknowledges that antifandom discourse is not just about the text itself; for instance, in Flores's porn movies or erotic photography, her flesh, ontology, and fatness are at the core of her cultural production, so they have to be analyzed too. Flores's caption for the same 2017 Instagram post states, "I choose to draw strength from the haters." The additional affective labor that Flores has to negotiate to process these agitated responses by haters is a component of why her fans follow her.

[3.6] In my ethnographic work, I have heard comments like, "Well, the cultural business lends itself to critique; you have to put up with it," or, "These responses are not unique to just fat women." I disagree. While it is true that structures of misogyny warrant attacks on women in general, an identity hermeneutics lens elucidates the added layer of racialized fatness as a factor that antifans use freely to attack the female artists and fans with whom I work. Thus, rather than suggesting that we use one model for explaining agitated responses, I agree with Wanzo (2015) that if we move to a framework of identity hermeneutics, each situation will require its own theoretical lens. In my work, agitation results from various factors: from what Jillian Hernandez calls "sexual-aesthetic excess" (2009), what Deborah Vargas calls "suciedad" (2014), what José Esteban Muñoz calls "chusmeria" (1999), or what I have identified as "chuntiness/chunteria" (Garcia-Hernandez, forthcoming) and "pirujeria" and their "intoxicating pleasures" (Garcia-Hernandez, 2016). My intervention focuses on methodology—I ask fan studies scholars to engage with corporality in our theorizations of antifandom. The atom approach is useful to view the intertexuality of fandom, but we need to move on to think about how centering the flesh—race, fatness, class, gender, sexuality—offers new insights into thinking of antifans and antifandom as descending from historical violence, racism, fat phobia, and disgust toward working-class women of color and queer communities. This requires a different analogy for both fans/antifans and fandom/antifandom, one that takes into account the following: historically and structurally racialized stars have constantly been viewed as agitators of morality and deviancy; fans of color agitate our fields, and we need to listen to them; antifans get agitated and post agitated responses that we must take seriously because they show us that their agitations are not just a distinction of taste; and last, as acafans of color, we must continue to agitate from below.

4. References

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Cohen, Cathy J. 2010. Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Flores, April. 2013. Fat Girl. Los Angeles: Rare Bird Books.

Garcia-Hernandez, Yessica. 2016. "Intoxication as Feminist Pleasure: Drinking, Dancing, and Un-dressing with/for Jenni Rivera." New American Notes Online, no. 9.

Garcia-Hernandez, Yessica. 2018. "Fat Latina Perversity: Savoring April Flores's World and Its Fat Spectacular Aesthetic." Paper presented at National Women's Studies Association, Atlanta, GA, November 8–11, 2018.

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Williams, Raymond. 1982. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. New York: Oxford University Press.