"She's a fan, but this was supposed to be scientific": Fan misunderstandings and acafan mistakes

Daisy Pignetti

University of Wisconsin–Stout, Menomonie, Wisconsin, United States

[0.1] Abstract—I here reflect on my first forays into fan studies, two separate projects on fans' reactions to Tom Hiddleston's short-lived relationship with Taylor Swift. After discovering live tweets of my 2018 Fan Studies Network presentation that included yet-to-be-published survey research I collected on post-Hiddleswift fannish behaviors, some fans turned to the Anonymous Ask feature of a Hiddleston-focused Tumblr blog to interrogate the results, an article I had recently published, and me. I highlight this experience as a way to reexamine my methodological choices going forward when working with fan populations while writing for academic audiences. Ultimately, I realize future misinterpretations might be prevented by transparency as an acafan on Tumblr and more consistent interaction with fans across social media platforms.

[0.2] Keywords—Anonymous Ask; Antifans; Celebrity studies; Hiddleswift; Live tweets; Social media; Survey research; Tumblr; Twitter

Pignetti, Daisy. 2020. "'She’s a fan, but this was supposed to be scientific': Fan Misunderstandings and Acafan Mistakes." In "Fan Studies Methodologies," edited by Julia E. Largent, Milena Popova, and Elise Vist, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 33.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The fact that you quote lareinedenfer, the worst toxic hater, so extensively in your study is what de-legitimises it for me. Let's be honest, you never liked the relationship and your whole "study" was just bias-confirmation. Your own. That's why you are so "surprised" that your survey shows such different results than what you thought was the fandom's reaction. But that's what happens when you only look at the rantings of a toxic.

—anonymous, Tumblr

[1.2] I'll be honest. Deciding to open my essay for this special issue on fan studies methodologies with this unforgiving anonymous Tumblr message was not easy. I had already composed several responses to similar critics to clarify the scope of my work in the months after presenting my Hiddleswift survey research at the 2018 Fan Studies Network conference. But here I was again, faced with someone conflating two separate projects, failing to acknowledge that I quoted other Tumblr bloggers besides lareinedenfer, and describing my research position as biased. Although the message ultimately reveals a lack of understanding of what academics who study fandoms do, particularly those who are also fans of their objects of study, it has also made me realize there was more I could have done to make my work accessible to the Hiddlestoner fandom, as well as more I can do to prevent future misinterpretations of my research.

[1.3] The identity crises endured by new and veteran acafans alike is hardly a new topic of discussion: the introduction to Matt Hills's 2002 book Fan Cultures provides an extensive literature review distinguishing the differences among academics, fans, scholar-fans, and fan-scholars. Between June and October 2011, Henry Jenkins's Confessions of an Aca-Fan blog featured twenty-seven posts on the topic of "Aca-Fandom and beyond," giving leading fan studies scholars the space to debate the term. Most applicable to the experience I reflect upon in this essay is Louisa Stein's (2011) suggestion that the term "'aca-fan' is not a category of scholar or a defined community, nor even a fixed position, but rather a descriptor of an ongoing, ever shifting critical and personal process."

2. The internet researcher and her internet boyfriend

[2.1] In order that you may better understand how my aca and fan worlds collided, I should start by explaining that the how, why, and when people use online platforms to tell their stories and reach an audience has fascinated me throughout my academic career. My 2010 doctoral dissertation in the field of rhetoric and composition focused on authorship and collaboration in the post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans blogosphere. As a New Orleans native myself, I utilized self-narrative, an autoethnographic technique Carolyn Ellis and Art Bochner define as "texts by complete-member researchers" who "explore groups of which they are already members or in which…they have become full members with complete identification and acceptance" (quoted in Chang 2008, 33). I also relied on qualitative methods such as interactive interviewing—answering the same questions I asked my tech-savvy participants (in a wiki space no less!)—to learn how blogging (as it was understood in 2005) became the genre through which first individuals and then citizen groups found agency.

[2.2] Reflecting on that experience now, I realize it was my five years of continuous online interaction with fellow bloggers, in the comments sections of our blogs and on the NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) blogger listserv, coupled with my in-person participation at their inaugural Rising Tide Conference on the Future of New Orleans in August 2006 that solidified their trust in me and the interest this group would have in my dissertation project. After all, other than the blog posts lamenting the loss of my childhood home and detailing my parents' Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance company experiences, I was a transplanted New Orleanian pursuing my graduate degree in Florida who did not have to deal with any of the daily hardships common to other NOLA bloggers' post-Katrina experience. Any of the interviewees could have at any time simply told me to go read their blog rather than communicate to me about what they had written, why, and what it might have meant in the wider scheme of things; however, our shared passion for New Orleans and technology overcame any such discrepancies.

[2.3] Conversely, as a fan of Tom Hiddleston's since he first appeared as Loki in Thor (2011), I operated online more as a lurker than a content creator, especially on Tumblr, since I had not yet built up a fandom-specific network there. When news of the pairing of Tom and Taylor Swift—dubbed Hiddleswift by the entertainment news media—broke in June 2016 and Tom's fans took to social media to sound off, I was drawn to finding, liking, and reblogging viewpoints that resonated with mine. Yes, I will admit that as a fan, I was initially shocked and subsequently disheartened every time a paparazzi picture of Tom and Taylor was posted from yet another exotic location. But as an internet researcher, I also knew I had to write about it. The exigence was certainly not comparable to a natural or national disaster, but the impacted community was turning to blog spaces to react.

[2.4] While reblogging photosets and GIFs, sharing fan art and memes, and locating/reading fan fiction were the primary reasons I joined Tumblr in January 2012, my acafan turn in 2016 led me to "care more about members' contributions" in order to make more explicit "social connections" (Jenkins et. al. 2009) within the Hiddleston fandom. However, unlike my fellow New Orleanians, whose blog sites began as a direct result of the storm in 2005 and which fostered a sense of community for me, the Hiddleston fandom on Tumblr and the site's interface did not make it easy for me to feel part of a networked community. In "It's About Who You Know: Social Capital, Hierarchies and Fandom," Bertha Chin (2018) describes some fandoms that direct new fans to "a comprehensive list…often featur[ing] fanfiction authors and artists who are well liked and have accumulated a substantial amount of reputation within the fandom, not merely for being great writers and artists, but at times, for being fan community leaders" (243). Because I was beginning my formal fan studies work at the onset of "Hiddleswift," however, an event that divided what had previously been a united Hiddleston fandom (not to mention caused some fic authors and artists to cease their creations all together), reputations were in flux and finding leaders and comprehensive lists of important fan works was challenging.

[2.5] Unlike the WordPress or Blogger platforms that provide themes allowing, even prompting, users to maintain lists of links on their home page, blogrolls on Tumblr sites are few and far between. Without guidance from trusted superfan sites, I relied instead on the recommended blogs in my dashboard, curated by algorithms that had analyzed my own Tumblr blog's content, tags, and liking/reblogging activity. As a result, the list of blogs I followed during that time became populated by those who either used a picture of Tom Hiddleston as their avatar, mentioned him in their page description or tagline, or included "Hiddles" in their site name, e.g., "damnyouhiddles," "teacuphiddles," "hiddlescheekbones," "tomhiddleslove," and "hard-on-for-hiddleston." Although I would go on to contact bloggers with non-Hiddles usernames for permission to quote from their posts, at this early stage, I admit to "not recognizing the size or scope of the fandom…and using limited messaging and search facilities" (Hillman, Procyk, and Neustaedter 2014, 775). Still, I do feel my two projects, the first qualitative and the second quantitative, were successful in capturing the "fluidity of engagement" (Deller 2015) within the Hiddleston fandom at that time.

3. Academic creation of Hiddleswift research projects

[3.1] In early 2017, I began work on an article for the special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC) dedicated to Tumblr and fandom (Morimoto and Stein 2018). "'Remember a Week Ago When Tom Hiddleston Could Do No Wrong?': Tumblr Reactions to the Loss of an Internet Boyfriend" explored the ways Tumblr, unlike Twitter or Facebook, provided the space the British actor's fans needed to analyze his unexpected relationship with Taylor Swift (Pignetti 2018a). As I wrote there, "While Booth notes that Tumblr's nature is to place 'emphasis on the image rather than the written word' (2017, 238)…the spectacle that was tagged #Hiddleswift inspired posts that often ranged between 600 and 2,100 words" (Pignetti 2018a, ¶ 4.1). Crafted for the symposium section of the journal, which according to the journal's submission guidelines encourages "concise, thematically contained essays" (Transformative Works and Cultures n.d.), I limited my discussion to two Hiddlestoners' posts and submitted the piece in July 2017. Because of the brevity of the romance, by then, both celebrities had moved on, and their respective fandoms had quieted. However, in August 2017, I contacted my editors for permission to amend the symposium piece in order to include examples from the resurgence of reactions to the "I <3 TS" tank tops that appeared in Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do" music video (note 1).

[3.2] Given how quickly the entertainment media resuscitated both the portmanteaus and timelines associated with Swift's former boyfriends when her Reputation album dropped in November 2017, I proposed a Hiddleswift presentation to the Fan Studies Network (FSN) conference to be held in Cardiff, Wales, in the summer of 2018. My intent was to do an extended analysis of the Tumblr blogs I had found since submitting my work to TWC because even though the relationship was over, to some fans, the damage to Hiddleston's reputation was permanent. New posts reflected their frustration over the countless articles that pejoratively linked Hiddleston's name to Swift's (figure 1), something they had feared as soon as news of the pairing hit back in 2016.

Screenshot of a daily update Google alert on Tom Hiddleston from November 10, 2017, the week of Taylor Swift's album release. The headlines are grouped under two themes: 'Taylor Swift's 'Reputation': All the Gossip about Joe Alwyn, Kanye West, and Tom Hiddleston' and 'Taylor Swift Appears to Throw Tom Hiddleston under the Bus in 'Getaway Car,'' with only one of the six not focusing on which ex-boyfriend inspired which song. That sole headline reads, 'Tom Hiddleston Spotted with Cute Puppy amid Taylor Swift Album Release'.

Figure 1. Screenshot of a daily update Google alert on Tom Hiddleston from November 10, 2017, the week of Taylor Swift's album release. In all but one of the headlines, the entertainment media was speculating about which ex-boyfriend inspired which song.

[3.3] While the content of these new Tumblr posts was rich, in the months leading up to the FSN conference, I became more intrigued by the contrast between responses to the same news items about Hiddleston across social media platforms. For example, despite the joy that a new GQ portfolio of pictures of Tom donning fitted, brown, striped suits brought some, others could not help but notice that instead of promoting his new film, Kong: Skull Island (2017), he spent the majority of the corresponding cover story defending his relationship with Taylor and the aforementioned "I <3 TS" tank top (Brodesser-Akner 2017). Even its author Taffy Brodesser-Akner (2017) was taken aback: "He is so sad, and I can't take it anymore, so I put my hand on his and I say, 'Tom, Tom, it's okay. You don't have to talk about the tank top anymore. I got it. I understand. I'll tell the world.' But he can't stop talking about it. He literally cannot stop talking about it."

[3.4] Consider what happened when a Tumblr post titled "On the GQ Interview" (coincidentally authored by Tumblr user lareinedenfer (2017), "the worst toxic hater" mentioned in the epigraph) was shared (not by me) in the closed Facebook group "Hiddleston Gossip—Anything Goes" (note 2). The comments quickly moved away from the content of lareinedenfer's (2017) post, most of which mocked Tom's conversation with Brodesser-Akner and ultimately labeled him "desperate and contrived." Instead, it incited a debate about who gets to be called a real fan. Respondents outlined reasons why fans should or shouldn't doubt Tom's integrity and attempted to explain that critiques of his behavior didn't make them nonfans or haters. Most pertinent to my interests as a social media scholar, I noticed several references to Tumblr users—in this thread and others—as "creepy," "delusional," "crazies," "trolls," and "rabid pets."

[3.5] While I had observed some fandom infighting when other internet boyfriends, like Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Evans, went public with relationships, I decided to pursue a quantitative project to gauge how permanent an impact Hiddleston's relationship with Swift made upon his fandom. Wondering if fan shaming was widespread, particularly on platforms like Tumblr and Twitter, where users can hide behind pseudonyms or go completely anonymous, I also sought to learn more about Hiddleston fans' social media behaviors. The ten-question survey, which was approved by my university's institutional review board and which collected no demographic data, was open from May 17 to June 18, 2018. It received nearly 400 responses within the first twenty-four hours of its launch and 593 responses in total. These fans clearly had been waiting for the opportunity to speak their minds!

[3.6] Given the use of air quotes by the anonymous asker in the epigraph to describe my "study" and "surprise" at the survey results, my focus in this praxis piece will be on the survey results to the question, "Would you say Tom's brief relationship with Taylor Swift in 2016 impacted your fannish behaviors (enthusiasm) within the Hiddlestoner community?" (Pignetti 2018b), as it best illustrates the fandom’s split. The options for answers were "yes," "no," or "temporarily." A follow-up question for those who answered "yes" or "temporarily" offered suggestions as to what "enthusiasm" might mean, e.g., reading and/or writing fan fiction involving Tom or characters he has portrayed; posting about him on social media; leaving or joining different fan groups as a result of the relationship; returning or selling DVDs or other merchandise related to his films; shifting focus to another celebrity/actor fandom; or the open-text option "other," where responders could describe their responses. Ultimately, the majority of those surveyed felt the relationship did not make a permanent impact on their status as fans of Tom, with 60.03 percent reporting "no" impact occurred, 17.35 percent reporting "yes," and 22.62 percent reporting "temporarily." "Other" responses, however, should provide some insight into why I hypothesized otherwise about their online experiences in presumably safe fannish spaces (figure 2).

Figure 2 depicts eleven text responses that reveal a change in Tom Hiddleston's fans' social media reading, viewing, and posting experiences as a direct result of his relationship with Taylor Swift: 1. 'Stopped looking so frequently at Hiddleston related blogs, not because I had a particular problem with Swift but found much of the fan reaction tedious.' 2. 'Decided to become a Swiftie since I was appalled at Toms [sic] fans behavior.' 3. 'Was blocked and unfollowed by others I interacted with regularly because I supported it to some extent.' 4. 'Limited my interactions on social media in particular and wider mainstream media in general, due to the overwhelming negative reports and outright lies that were being circulated.' 5. 'It highlighted some appalling attitudes among TH fans and allowed me to separate myself from the people who hold them.' 6. 'Couldn't engage with others because they talked about nothing but that and his personal life isn't my business.' 7. 'It didn't necessarily change my behavior as far as retreating from his fandom, but it did affect my approach and attitude in how I used social media. It was almost like being on the defensive.' 8. 'Still a fan and follower, but stopped posting because it became all about his relationship and whether you approved or disapproved/whether you liked Taylor or hated her.' 9. 'I stayed pretty silent about the relationship on social media.' 10. 'Just avoided any post with the words Hiddleswift or Taylor Swift or anything related.' 11. 'I unfollowed people on Tumblr that I no longer found fun in the wake of the relationship because of the way they posted. I continued to post exactly the same way as I had before it happened.'

Figure 2. Eleven of the 71 text responses to the "other" option for those who answered "yes" or "temporarily" to the question about the impact of Hiddleswift upon their "fannish behaviors (enthusiasm) within the Hiddlestoner community." These reveal a change in fans' social media reading, viewing, and posting experiences as a direct result of Hiddleswift.

[3.7] My June 29, 2018, FSN presentation, "'When Your Fave Is Problematic': The Impact of Hiddleswift on Hiddlestoners" (Pignetti 2018b), elaborated on these opinions to conclude that while many still considered themselves fans of Tom's work as an actor, some categorically stopped interacting with the fandom on social media during Hiddleswift. As one fan described that three-month period in the open answer section, "I'm more of a casual fan. I would never ascribe myself as a 'Hiddlestoner,' but the spectacle could not be escaped with the barrage of articles and photos, on every platform. It got to the point that I had to filter everything and honestly could not take any pleasure in reading about current and future work projects. Everything was overshadowed. Once she was out of the picture and a bit of normalcy returned I could enjoy once again reading about the Hamlet performances, etc."

[3.8] Indeed, I met several fan studies scholars at the conference who, based on their use of Loki GIFs to punctuate their tweets, also appreciated Tom's work. During breaks between sessions, our face-to-face conversations would veer either toward speculating why Tom's public relations team had allowed things to get so out of hand or toward wanting to collaborate on projects related to Taylor Swift, i.e., the problematic actions of her fans toward the fan groups of other male entertainers she has dated as well as the brand of "white feminism" that she has brought to the entertainment industry. As someone without a media studies background, I came away from my first FSN conference with the impression that my Hiddleswift research was of value, particularly to current scholarly conversations about the authenticity of celebrity.

4. Fan reactions to Hiddleswift research projects

[4.1] Then I logged back into my Tumblr account.

[4.2] There I found Hiddleston fans who presumably had participated in my survey, because they were familiar with both it and my name enough to (1) discover the live tweets from my #FSN2018 session which then (2) led them to locate and read my TWC article, which had just been published weeks prior, and (3) turn to the anonymous ask feature of a Hiddleston-focused Tumblr blog run by pseudonymous user insanely-smart to interrogate both.

[4.3] Before I dive into what they asked and subsequently discussed in the days and months following the FSN conference, and more importantly, how I could have prevented their confusion, allow me to speculate briefly about how they may have found my work. As suggested in the paragraph above, it seems most askers were familiar with my survey project, something I had posted about on various Hiddleston-focused Facebook groups and had directly asked a number of Twitter and Tumblr fan accounts to share. My original Tumblr post soliciting participation received 102 notes, which I believe directly correlates to the 400+ survey responses I received in the first twenty-four hours of the survey's being open (figure 3).

A screenshot of my original Tumblr post from May 18, 2018, that shared the link to my 'Impact of Hiddleswift' survey and highlighted that it was for an academic project and respondents could remain completely anonymous. I reblogged the post later that same day to thank users for sharing the post because I had already received nearly 400 responses in less than twenty-four hours. I also included a GIF from Tumblr user kittenwitchandthebadvibes of an animated cat alongside a person scrolling through Tumblr notifications on their smartphone.

Figure 3. Screenshot of my original Tumblr post from May 18, 2018, which I reblogged later in the day to say thank you for all the likes and reblogs that spread the word about my "Impact of Hiddleswift" survey.

[4.4] Since my Tumblr and Twitter handles are the same—phdaisy—it is possible that I gained followers on both platforms as a result of attention to the survey. If so, it would have been my tweets rather than my Tumblr posts that made them aware of my FSN conference participation. In fact, throughout the two-day conference, nearly 1,500 live tweets were posted with #FSN2018, helping those not able to attend the conference to follow along. Even if the most enthusiastic fans kept versions of Tom's name on Google alerts or as part of an advanced search on TweetDeck, being guided to the conference hashtag via my tweets certainly would have assisted their finding references to Hiddleston and talk of his fandom. Moreover, between June 15, 2018, and October 22, 2019, visitors to my Twitter page would see the following as my pinned tweet, which could also explain their quick finding of the TWC article: "Two years to the date those 'Tinker, Taylor Snogs A Spy' on Rhode Island rocks pics appeared in @TheSun, my piece on #Hiddleswift & tumblr #fandom has been published in the new issue of TWC edited by @l_e_s & @aca-fanmom! #internetboyfriend #fsn2018" (Pignetti 2018c).

[4.5] As previously stated, I rarely create my own content on Tumblr, and unfortunately, that habit led to my neglect in making a similar announcement on the blogging platform. Truthfully, this was less a deliberate choice and more my standard practice; I wanted to tag the issue editors and reach the academic Twitter audience I recognized made up a significant portion of my nearly 2,100 followers. However, even with only 109 Tumblr followers, neglecting to make them aware of this publication news, especially since the article focused on Tumblr as "a site of critical discourse" (Booth 2017, 240), was a major misstep on my part. As you recall, the TWC article had been completed the previous year, but I had just put myself on their radar as "the survey researcher" the month prior, so this was a missed opportunity to distinguish my two Hiddleswift projects from one another.

[4.6] Returning to the subject of the anonymous asks, I ought to note that I was not tagged in all the answers Tumblr blogger insanely-smart provided her askers, but as soon as I saw a few in a row, dated and timestamped the exact afternoon I was participating in the FSN conference, I used the search tool on her blog page to find others that mentioned "Daisy" or my screen name "phdaisy" (note 3). To summarize some of that early scrutiny: fans questioned the ethics of my quoting from Tumblr blogs in the article, even though I had gained permission, and my "dissecting his [Hiddleston's] every word to find deeper meaning and inconsistency" (insanely-smart 2018a) when, in actuality, I only quoted him in my presentation twice.

[4.7] With regards to the ask (figure 4), let me begin by addressing my article's use of first person in what the asker and Tumblr blogger insanely-smart felt was "supposed to be scientific" and "proper academic writing," respectively (insanely-smart 2018b) (note 4). Because this was my first fan studies publication and because it was describing fractures in a fandom that I was a part of, I had purposefully chosen to publish the piece in the symposium section of TWC. That way, I could begin with my own experiences of tracking the entertainment news and social media posts on the relationship before considering how Tumblr provided a forum for Hiddleston fans to process their reactions to the relationship. As the "ETA" (edited to add) in her answer indicates, insanely-smart adjusted her stance that the article should not have been written "that casually" to go on to explain the distinct sections of the journal and how my piece was an example of "a personal essay integrated with scholarship" (insanely-smart 2018b). While self-justifying, I also feel it necessary to point out that the opinions the asker in figure 4 references in his/her critique of me actually all appear in my final footnote as "moments that divided the fandom further" (Pignetti 2018a, n2) and were not discussed in the article itself.

Screenshot of an anonymous ask that Tumblr user insanely-smart received and answered on the day of my FSN presentation, June 29, 2018. An excerpt of the ask reads as follows: 'I don't get why phdaisy did the survey for, I was looking for those results (such as statistics, etc) but instead I only found an article (she's a fan, but this was supposed to be scientific) full of her own opinions…So disappointing.' insanely-smart replied with the following: 'Those [statistics] haven’t been released yet. She'll be trying to get the info/slides up later on (I asked.) The article isn't what she presented today. Though, I do agree that the writing in that journal article was a little too personal for proper academic writing. You're supposed to have an opinion, but not write it that casually.'

Figure 4. Screenshot of an anonymous ask that Tumblr user insanely-smart received and answered on the day of my FSN presentation, June 29, 2018. The asker expected my survey results to be published already, even though data collection had ended less than two weeks prior, and thus expressed disappointment in only being able to find my TWC journal article.

[4.8] This ask was not the only evidence of the #FSN2018 live tweets arousing an interest that only led to disappointment when fans found “only an article” and not the survey results (insanely-smart 2018b). With the survey data collection, article publication, and conference presentation all entering the Hiddlestoners' consciousness within a six-week period, conflation of the projects continued, even after insanely-smart answered, "The article isn't what she presented today" (insanely-smart 2018b). But perhaps most damaging to my ethos with the fandom was my inclusion of—in both the article and presentation—Tumblr blogger lareinedenfer.

5. The toxic

[5.1] It seems my lack of pre-Hiddleswift history with the Hiddlestoner fandom on Tumblr caused me to highlight, in the words of the anonymous ask I open with, the "rantings of a toxic." In fact, another user messaged me to express their dismay in my using lareinedenfer as a source in the TWC article, describing her as "nasty and cruel from the start, a troll who went after Hiddleston's fandom" (anonymous Tumblr direct message to author, July 6, 2018). In my defense, I never solely featured her in the article or my presentation, instead always including her opinions alongside those of other Tumblr bloggers. When I began reviewing countless Hiddlestoners' posts back in June 2016, I never saw disparaging posts about particular users, so it would have been difficult for me to know, as insanely-smart describes it, that "looooog before H[iddle]S[wift]…she [lareinedenfer] was harassing and bullying fanfic writers" (cenobitic-anchorite 2018).

[5.2] But even if I did know her history beforehand, there is no denying lareinedenfer's way of speaking on the topic of Hiddleswift was direct. I chose her posts due to their prolific nature, with several extending beyond 1,000 words. Yet, my critics once again turned to insanely-smart to question my choice: "One thing is for sure: lareinedenfer, one of the absolute worst toxics, will have multiple orgasms seeing that much of this 'study' is based on the vitriol she spewed. And this passes for 'academic research' these days? Very disappointing" (cenobitic-anchorite 2018).

[5.3] insanely-smart once again came to my rescue by noting "researchers have always studied nasty people, or included them in research. They're part of the human spectrum" (cenobitic-anchorite 2018), but not without also making the following comments about lareinedenfer: "For me, she is THE toxic. End of. The others are merely gossipmongers" (cenobitic-anchorite 2018). When I reblogged this ask and answer exchange on my own Tumblr blog to add my explanation of how and why lareinedenfer's posts fit in the context of TWC's special issue on Tumblr and fandom, there was one reply that stood out. Tumblr user cenobitic-anchorite (2018) acknowledged my note as an "interesting addition" to the study, and then used the following hashtags: "#neat stuff," "#been following this at arm's reach which is probably the best way to study fandom sometimes," and "#but I respect what Daisy's doing here."

[5.4] As an academic well-versed in qualitative methods but new to working with fan populations, the flurry of anonymous asks questioning my research in the days and months after the FSN conference had me fearing visits to Tumblr altogether (note 5). So when I saw this reaction, dated September 5, 2018, with its reference to fandom studies as better for being undertaken "at arm's reach," I knew at least a few of my followers were beginning to understand the precarious positions of someone who is both a fan and an academic. And this was because I was finally using the same platform as the group I was studying. My conclusion will elaborate on this seemingly simple but crucial way I can make my work more transparent to the fans I am studying, but suffice it to say, as soon as I began reblogging asks and answers to then add my own perspective, more nods of respect like the one above appeared.

[5.5] However, my reliance on lareinedenfer was something a few could not forgive, even though she has never used her blog space (which either she or Tumblr deactivated in June 2019) to boast about being part of an academic publication in order to "validate [her] own rantings" (insanely-smart 2018c). In fact, in my messages requesting permission to quote from her blog in the first TWC piece and then again for this one, her replies were succinct but cooperative. Even when I let her know that my current discussion would include references to her as a "toxic," she replied, "I don't really care about people's opinions" (lareinedenfer Tumblr direct message to author, n.d.). Still, there was growing concern about the academic attention I was bringing to the Hiddlestoner fandom—good and bad—on Tumblr: "People at that conference won't just be laughing bemused at the toxics. They'll also be equally bemused and patronising towards blogs like yours, Saney. I imagine they find the 'intellectual' discussions and claims about who knows Tom best, his career etc, quaint—no matter which blog" (insanely-smart 2018d).

[5.6] Again, insanely-smart tried to right this wrong impression by answering, "Well, it's a Fandom Studies conference, so they aren't particularly 'laughing at' people; they're interested in the sociology of it all" (insanely-smart 2018d). Whether or not that was enough of an explanation, I'll never know. The askers moved on to another topic that weekend: Tom's surprise appearance at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in London, where he presented Benedict Cumberbatch with the Outstanding Achievement Award (Hiddlesfashion 2018). But that asker's depiction of "people at that conference" as "patronising" troubles me. To conclude, I would like to borrow from the "goodwill ethics of online research methods" Brittany Kelley describes in her 2016 TWC piece by the same name to propose ways that my future acafan work can become more respectful of my human subjects across social media platforms.

6. Tumblr-ing forward

[6.1] Only now that I have achieved some distance from these two Hiddleswift projects do I realize how my history of pursuing personal research, thereby producing what some interpreted as "overly confessional" writing (Phillips 2010), and then including opinions from a "toxic" member of the fandom all worked to undermine my academic authority with this fan group. As unsettling as it was for me to find questions and responses to my research on another person's blog rather than addressed directly to me, even after the blogger insanely-smart tagged me as a fellow Tumblr user, the experience has prompted me to reexamine my methods in order to consider a readership comprising both academics and fans. Michelle Fine describes this charge as "working the hyphen," that is, more carefully considering "how we are in relation with the contexts we study and with our informants, understanding that we are all multiple in those relations" (as cited in Kelley 2016, ¶ 4.7).

[6.2] For example, as popular as the survey was, I was not surprised that fans wanted to see the data that emerged from it, but I was surprised by the speed with which they wanted it. These days, fans have grown accustomed to taking quizzes that prove their knowledge or loyalty to a fandom and receiving instantaneous results to share on their social media timelines. Reviewing the boilerplate language within my university's institutional review board consent statement, which opened the Hiddleswift survey, I see now that it explained my project's goals but did not indicate when or where results would be published. Kelley (2016) suggests researchers "share the report with participants as soon as possible, and to be willing to talk through its writing, so participants can have a chance to negotiate different meanings, and even to pull out of the research entirely" (¶ 4.7). Moreover, because I was limited to a fifteen-minute presentation at the FSN conference, I knew my first pass at reportage would not include everything, and because I collected anonymous data, I had not even considered the negotiation of different meanings. My plans were to write things up over the summer, first informally in a post-conference blog post (complete with a selection of slides) on my WordPress site (which I did on July 15, 2018, in a post titled "FSN2018: Impact of Hiddleswift" [Pignetti 2018d]) and then more formally as a journal article or book chapter (which I am still doing). But these are the plans of an academic with an academic audience and academic publishing timelines on her mind, not to mention a 4/4 teaching load.

[6.3] Given the anonymous asks began as the result of stumbling upon live tweets, some of which may have included pictures of my slides but could neither capture the essence of my extemporaneous delivery nor appreciate the full range of audience responses to my presentation, I have been reminded that time is of the essence in internet-based fan research. Even with my cross posting the aforementioned July 15 blog post to Tumblr and tagging insanely-smart with the hope she would reblog it to her followers to offer them answers to their previously asked questions (she didn't), relying on my former postconference habits is no longer sufficient. If I am going to use fans' vocal posts to inform my work, I need to reciprocate with more frequent Tumblr posts about my progress, upcoming conference presentations, and spin-off projects. Something else I can do to prevent future misinterpretations when fans invariably come into contact with my work is leave my Tumblr blog's ask box open, which would embody Kelley's (2016) extension of the term "transparency" as one that fosters "a sense of collaboration with participants" (¶ 4.12). Because the feature is disabled by default, and as even after one does enable it, there is another step to allow anonymous asks, I never even considered making anonymous asks available, which emphasizes my former position as a lurker on Tumblr. Truthfully, the feature had not even caught my eye until my experience of seeing the Hiddleston fans turn to their trusted Tumblr authors rather than me, which was likely in order to protect their anonymity.

[6.4] In other words, because the majority of my survey participants came from Tumblr, I should have immersed myself in the Tumblr fandom more rather than play it safe in my familiar Facebook groups and academic Twitter circles. Not only did I miss an opportunity to inform my fellow fans of the publication of my TWC article before I left for the FSN conference, but if I had I created a Tumblr post about my publication, I could have provided "an explicit methodological reflection on [my] digital (auto)ethnographical practices" (Evans and Stasi 2014, 18). In plain language, I could have explained how and why I selected the Tumblr blogs that I quoted. As Casey Fiesler (2019) writes in "Why (and how) academics should blog their papers": "Blogging about papers is also a way to share work more easily with the community you studied…You can include information in a blog post that might not be in the paper itself. It can be nice to reflect on the research process and journey beyond the context of that formal write-up."

[6.5] Doing this type of self-reflexive work in those precious two weeks between the TWC article publication and my FSN presentation could have put Tumblr user lareinedenfer's reputation on my radar, prevented fans' conflation of the article with the survey, and also set up the latter's potential value as a quantitative and, thus, more objective look at the fandom's reactions. Indeed, regarding the value of data, one asker expressed the following concern to insanely-smart soon after taking my survey in May 2018: "I've been Tom's fan for less than a year… (didn't know him in 2016), so I don't think my answers mean so much. But I'm worried about the results being publicly discussed, couldn't that be even more damaging?" (insanely-smart 2018e) I am not sure if the asker meant public discussion would be damaging to Tom Hiddleston's reputation or his fandom's, but insanely-smart's reply about the usefulness of results is intriguing in light of how the current social media landscape has blurred the lines between entertainment news and opinion pieces:

[6.6] I mean, that is a concern. But these are things that have been or are being discussed anyway—but without any data behind them. At this point, this is the closest we'll get to that. I think, personally, I'd rather have this out there with factual information. Because you never know, she may discover that not as many people have left as was thought (or have come back). To me, anyway, that kind of information could be far more useful than a gossip site like Lainey (with tons of followers) saying people dislike Tom, as if it's true—which we're seeing with TR [Thor: Ragnarok (2017)] and IW [Avengers: Infinity War (2018)] reception, that it's not. But of course, you're right that release of the information could dredge up stuff from clickbait sites, which will be tiring. Honestly, though, it's still happening, no matter what. (insanely-smart 2018e)

[6.7] If you recall, sixty percent of those surveyed stated Tom's relationship with Taylor had no impact on their fannish behaviors. When asked for follow-up explanation, 168 of 384 respondents chose the option, "I'm a loyal fan no matter who he dates." Likewise, in open responses, frustration with the media coverage of the "Hiddleswift" spectacle and hatred of Taylor Swift were expressed far more often than any loss of respect for Tom. To quote Fiesler (2019) again, although she was referring to scientific communication more than celebrity gossip, "Even if you aren't writing about your research, someone else might be." Thus, it is my intent to be more explicit in my use of both online platforms (e.g., Tumblr and Twitter) and academic spaces like TWC and FSN meetings when distributing data and telling my "own story" (Fiesler 2019) alongside other popular culture headlines.

[6.8] References to Tom Hiddleston continue to appear in entertainment news posts about Taylor Swift, primarily those that reference song lyrics (figure 5). Recaps of their highly publicized relationship are also frequently provided whenever writers describe her current, more private relationship with another British actor, Joe Alwyn. For example, In Style contrasts the two relationships thusly: "For reference, we struggled to find even one pic of the two even standing near each other, while 'Taylor Swift Tom Hiddleston' has 11.8 million Google hits" (Whittaker 2017).

Screenshot of an Instagram post shared by E!News on May 6, 2019, which has garnered over a million views. On the left is a video of Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston dancing at the 2016 Met Gala event and on the right are user comments, including the question, 'Is that…Tom? TOM HIDDLESTON?!?!' and the opinion, 'The night he made the biggest mistake in his life.'

Figure 5. On May 6, 2019, in their barrage of posts gearing up for the Met Gala, E!News shared a video on their Instagram page of what was the first glimpse the world saw of Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston together, dancing at the 2016 Met Gala event. Their caption—"No nothing good starts in a getaway car, but hop in!"—references the Swift song media outlets and fans have most associated with her relationship with Hiddleston, "Getaway Car," from her 2017 album Reputation.

[6.9] Unlike the therapeutic nature of Tumblr's endless scrollability, described by Rebecca Williams (2018) regarding series' endings or characters' canonical deaths, where "constant repeat viewing of the same content…works to assuage fannish anxieties, helping fans cope" (¶ 1.2), many Hiddlestoners do not want any reminders of Tom's ever having dated Taylor. Indeed, when asked if they had ever been fans of Taylor, 427 of my 593 survey respondents answered "never." When I shared an early draft of this article with insanely-smart (something Judith Fathallah recommends in her 2016 article about accountability, transparency, and reciprocity), she expressed concern that my research is dredging up feelings from the past. As another fan put it, "Tom has moved on with his life, shouldn't we?" (insanely-smart 2018f). At the heart of humanities research is learning from the past in order to understand our present and imagine the future. The Hiddleswift relationship was a critical moment in Hiddlestoner fandom's history, and while my TWC article focused on a few reactions to Tom and Taylor's three-month relationship, the survey data has revealed there is much more to investigate when it comes to how the media depicts celebrity couplings as well as how fans treat other fans based on their views of those couplings, specifically on Tumblr (note 6).

[6.10] As a professor housed in an English department, my career focus is teaching and researching writing, specifically, "the act of producing and distributing writing and the ways in which technology assists, promotes, impedes, and/or shapes that process" (Porter 2007, xviii). With this agenda in mind, I am entering the fan studies field as someone who has blogged since 2003 and has written a dissertation on a place-specific blogosphere, the latter of which was no small undertaking. As such, it now seems obvious to me that as I was examining Tumblr as a blog space for Hiddleswift discourse, I should have been blogging my survey project's progress there for the fan community in addition to information-sharing across social media platforms for my academic colleagues. This misstep reiterates my discussion about needing to have a better grasp of the Tumblr community, a researcher practice Kelley (2016) describes as "gain[ing] a clear view of the particulars of their site(s) of study" (¶ 3.6).

[6.11] Moreover, as this flurry of anonymous asks has highlighted, there are various authorial options the Tumblr platform provides that can "cause…conflict within fandom" (Minkel quoted in Morimoto 2018, ¶ 30). Thus, as part of my 2020 sabbatical leave, I plan to shift my focus onto those Tumblr users who run their blogs primarily as anonymous ask spaces rather than on a particular fandom. In doing so, I hope to learn whether or not there are rules established and shared about the types of asks they will and will not answer, how quickly they will move on to new topics if questions are repeated, and how much of a time commitment it is to stay online and answer questions, particularly during times when the blog's featured television show, movie, or celebrity is making headlines (or, as was my experience, is being discussed at an academic conference).

7. Notes

1. For those unfamiliar with the tank top in question and its impact, it is best described by Ellie Woodward (2017): "The image of Hiddleston and Swift frolicking in the ocean at her 4th of July party as he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with her initials was widely regarded as evidence that the relationship amounted to nothing more than a laughable PR stunt, and the pair were mocked mercilessly for the duration of their three-month union." As I added to my TWC piece, once the "Look What You Made Me Do" (2017) music video came out, fans were angered that "Taylor was calling attention to the shirt that Tom, not she, had been endlessly mocked about on the Fourth of July, and, to enrage Hiddlestoners further, she began selling the version from the video on her website at $50 each" (Pignetti 2018a, ¶ 5.3). Further proof of the tank top's being a permanent identifier of the relationship, and one negatively attributed to Tom, appears in the opening sentence of an April 25, 2019, Cosmopolitan magazine article: "Taylor Swift must have learned a lot from the super-public mess that was her relationship with Tom 'Questionable Taste in Tank Tops' Hiddleston, because her relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn has been insanely private" (Bonner 2019).

2. At 120 members, "Hiddleston Gossip—Anything Goes" ( is a small group when compared to the 15,864 "Hiddlestoners on Facebook" (, which boasts of being the first of Tom's Facebook fan groups to be established in May 2012. But as the gossip group's name infers, no topics are off limits. Meanwhile, to this day, the Hiddlestoners prohibit "any speculation or discussion regarding any female companion seen with Tom who isn't a relative or friend," a moratorium that began as a result of posts about Taylor Swift in June 2016.

3. Unfortunately, the Tumblr blog, which is discussed at length in this essay, was taken down in August 2018 as part of a purge by Tumblr of celebrity-focused blogs that posted paparazzi pictures subject to copyright. However, screenshots of several of the asks I quote, along with their original (but dead) URLs, appear in my July 25, 2018, blog post, "FSN2018: I tumble 4 ya" (Pignetti 2018e). The Tumblr blog, quoted in note 6, was also taken down that August, but I was able to locate its text via the Wayback Machine.

4. These value judgments are at the heart of acafan deliberations, with Hills (who relies on the term scholar-fan) claiming, "Respect is aligned with, and given to, the 'good' and rational academic who is expected to be detached and rational, even about his/her own investments in popular culture. Respect is not to be given lightly to those subjects who…deviate from the regulatory norms of academic writing or performance" (2002, 28).

5. I realize now that those who expressed disappointment could merely be par for the "callout culture" course Roach (2017) describes as happening "within their own communities." Because I do not know how many anonymous askers there were, only the number of asks I saw Tumblr user insanely-smart answer, it is possible they could have all come from a single source or a very few fans.

6. Not wanting to distract readers from my newly found insights as an acafan, I do feel it necessary to share at least one of the more candid summaries of what happened to the Hiddleston fandom, by Tumblr user maevecurrywrites (2017): "Everything EXPLODED, people who were all YAY RELATIONSHIP SO PERFECT TOGETHER were shitting all over people who were like TAYLOR SWIFT, No THANK YOU…names like jealous, hater, bitter, and toxic were tossed around like confetti on New Year's Eve, subtle and not-so-subtle racist comments were made on and off anon to WOC, and there was fan shaming galore, and fucking hell, what a SHITSHOW. Many left completely, some pulled back, others kept going, but the joy was sucked out of things like a popped balloon and that balloon stayed deflated for a good while. A lot of the fun, it seemed, had gone MIA."

8. References

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