Last week, a Tumblr post about the TV show Glee started making the social media rounds. It wasn’t a post about the show itself, technically, but a scorched-earth remembrance of the particular experience of being part of the show’s very active fandom on the social media platform circa 2011. It was apparently a way more intense community than casual Glee watchers could have realized. The post recalled some of the most damaging infighting that occurred among different factions of the online participants:
we turned on each other. klaine vs kum and finchel vs faberry. santana fought everyone so brittana stans fought everyone. character vs character, ship vs ship, blogger against blogger. we fucking hated each other. there was no glee fandom. there were character fandoms and ship fandoms and that is it and our mottos were all fuck glee.
(For the uninitiated, ship refers to fans who support particular romantic relationships on a show, and portmanteaus like Klaine are combinations of character names who fans fantasize about being together, such as Kurt/Blaine.)
The post, which can be read in full here, earned over 37,000 “notes,” or reactions, on Tumblr. Its author, who goes by the Tumblr username twelveclara, but in real life is a 25-year-old woman named Erin who works in marketing in Los Angeles, kindly agreed to answer some of Slate’s follow-up questions. (She asked that her last name not be used because she sometimes works with clients in the entertainment industry.) This interview has been edited and condensed.
Slate: Tell me about your involvement with the Glee fandom.
Erin: I’ve been in internet fandom since I was, like, a child. I was in Harry Potter when I was 9, 10, in my teen years. Glee came after that. Glee was probably the fandom that had the biggest impact on me. I was extremely involved. I was a person who wrote fanfiction for it. I would make little GIFs and graphics, stuff like that. Glee was the most prolific fandom I’ve ever been in. Everybody was constantly contributing something.
It was at a time in my life where I had just come out—I’m a lesbian—and Glee started tackling what I had just been through. To see that represented from a character standpoint is something that really impacted me personally. It’s not like Glee was just a show I was watching and enjoying; it was like this was me personally, almost, that I was watching on screen. That was what it was for most of the people who were in it. Because on Glee they really tried to represent everybody or every issue you could tackle, every minority.
It was just in a period where I was open to a lot of growth and understanding in ways I hadn’t been before. In the fandom, this was a time that a lot of minorities were coming into contact with each other and having to reconcile their privilege almost, or their lack thereof, or how they were being treated and having to come to terms with seeing that on screen. It was such an interesting time. It was so volatile. Everybody was so on edge. It was wild.
What has the reaction to your post been like?
I’ve been reading the tags, and the most common response I’ve seen is people being like, “War flashback. I’m literally having war flashbacks.” The weirdest thing for me about it has been the amount of people who have reblogged and retweeted and been like, “Oh my God, this isn’t even an exaggeration. This is what I went through.” The interesting thing about the response to it is that after everybody left the Glee fandom, no one ever talked about it. It was like you left and it was done, in the past. You couldn’t bring it up. It was almost like a taboo subject. It’s almost like we all had this mass hallucination. So now I feel like a lot of the response has been people like, “Holy shit, I can’t believe we never even talked about how insane this was and now we finally are.”
It’s like after, you were burned by it. Glee got to the point where it was like, I literally can’t defend this anymore. I can’t defend what’s going on or how this person is being represented or this relationship or this one-liner. So it was almost embarrassing afterwards to be like, “I was a part of that and I persisted in that, and now I don’t want to talk about it.” It was just so awful. Everybody hated each other.
Take me back to the experience of an average week in the fandom.
I remember after an episode aired, it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to see 11,000 people on my blog at one time. I’ve definitely never seen another fandom of the size and the engagement of Glee. The biggest interactions would be after an episode or even during an episode. But it was all week long, 24/7, it was all-encompassing.
We would watch the episode. Something inevitably would piss off some subsection, or some character would fight with a different character, or maybe somebody would break up or whatever. Because of that, it would just be a bombardment of their fans on Tumblr yelling at each other, fighting or trying to claim that what happened was problematic or that it shouldn’t have been represented this way, just nonstop harassment from every side. If something happened that you were happy about, you couldn’t even be happy about it because here’s a whole other section of the fandom who was furious with you as if you were the people who wrote the episode. It wasn’t just that there was one side to an issue, but all of a sudden there were 50 different sides to an issue, and every single side had 30,000 people behind it all screaming at you.
One of the biggest arguments between fandoms that I remember really well was when Finn kind of outed Santana. I think he sang “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” to her. I remember everybody on my side thinking, “What the fuck?” In no way, shape, or form was this ever acceptable. That was our whole position. Then there were people on the other side saying, “No, he said he was really worried she was going to end her life, he did this out of the goodness of his heart.” And the show presented it that way. That went on for days and days. I probably still have messages in my inbox yelling at me about this issue.
I would post something like, “That was extremely inappropriate, that never should have happened, you don’t out somebody like that, fuck Finn,” basically. People in your fandom would reblog it, but it would get seen by people who were in the opposite fandom and then they would reblog it, saying, “You’re wrong, he has good intentions.” It would just go back and forth like that. At this point it’s not even as if we were all open to receiving any insight from each other. We were very firmly in our corners and we were not moving.
You mentioned the word “problematic” specifically played a big role in this.
I obviously knew of the word before Glee. But it was almost like the word “problematic” became the bible of Glee. It was like this is your way to instantly prove somebody else wrong. Then people were instantly shut down, it was the be-all, end-all of an argument. I’m sure the most times anybody’s ever used that word in history were probably during the days of Glee. It’s sort of infiltrated Tumblr vocabulary. When everybody left Glee and they went to their new fandoms, we all took that with us.
You also wrote about how you see elements of the fights that played out over Glee all over Tumblr and even the larger culture now.
I can remember Tumblr before it was so swathed in identity politics. And it’s not even that it’s a bad thing. Tumblr is at an interesting place where it’s somehow the most educated and least educated platform I’m on. Glee gave us all language to talk about the problems we were seeing in media that we may not have seen before. I would say the sweet spot in age for Glee at that time was probably like 14 or 15 to early 20s. For a lot of people, this is the first time they were coming to contact with identity politics, and this was the first time we were coming into contact with each other and these other identities. That really is a staple now of Tumblr in a way I didn’t see as much before Glee.
Are you still very into Tumblr?
You know, I’m less so into it now, and that’s kind of why I originally started writing that post, because it’s become so hard to be there and enjoy things anymore. Everybody’s so primed for a fight over anything, really. It’s a lot of conflicting opinions. I did my time. Now I just want to enjoy things in peace and have a critical discussion about them when necessary and not every waking minute of the day.