Abstract: The exploration of identity is a common practice in fanfiction, and scholarship has consistently investigated this fan practice. Yet, despite the presence of disability and disabled characters in fanfiction, this aspect of identity exploration is only sparsely represented in scholarship. This article explores the intersection of disability studies and fanfiction studies through the lens of labelling and tagging, key elements of both fields.
Labelling and classification in disability communities are often associated with medicalization, stereotyping, and erasure of individuality, while tagging in fanfiction provides a communicative framework between authors and readers.
These differences in functions of labelling and tagging provide the foundation that enables tagging in fanfiction to function inclusively as a normalizing force, despite the problematic role of labelling in disability communities. Fanfiction is a space profoundly connected to the creation, exploration, and communication of identity. Within this community, fans explore their own identities as well as identities that are not fully explored in the canon of a fandom.
As the call for this special issue makes clear, one aspect of identity exploration in fanfiction that is not as explored in scholarship is disability.
Though disability and disabled characters are very much a part of the canonical texts on which fanfiction is based — and are represented throughout fanfiction — there has been little scholarly consideration on the intersection between these two fields. This study explores that intersection through the lens of tagging and labelling — a key function and point of discussion in both fields — and its role in the normalization of disability in fanfiction. As Davis notes in his work, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Bodythe concept of the norm is well-entrenched in our everyday lives: we compare our academic performance to normal curves of learning, we tailor our behaviour to accepted socio-cultural standards, and we measure our health against average curves of wellness p.
The ideal has since evolved into a conception of the average that statistically encompasses the majority of the population but remains ideologically loaded in ranking of particular aspects of the norm i. The small minority who falls fully within the normate, Garland-Thomson argues, are granted power and authority in society in part by othering and marginalizing those who fall outside of the boundaries of the normal p.
University of michigan
Normalizing, in relation to this definition, is the process or processes through which an experience or reality such as disability is made to be part of the normal. As this study demonstrates through a sample from one fandom on the popular fanfiction platform Archive of Our Own AO3the application of disability-related tags to fanfiction demonstrates an attempt to normalize disability in the fanfiction community as part of a normal life experience.
This attempt, while commendable and progressive, is not free from a privileging of specific disabilities and disabled experiences that mirror ongoing critiques of labelling and identity in broader disability communities . These trends demonstrate an attempt to normalize disability as part of the normal experience, but also surface ongoing privileging of particular disability narratives.
Labelling and classification are contentious in disability communities. This medical model of disability is the most prevalent way of understanding disability; yet in medicalizing disability as a problem of the body, mainstream society fails to provide space to critique systemic discrimination and barriers of access that disabled people often face Withers,p.
Contemporary scholars, activists, and members of disability communities have therefore interpreted labelling as a process of stereotyping, discrimination, and erasure. This minimizes the individuality and identity of those with disabilities by lumping large and diverse groups together — for example, assuming that all individuals with a particular physical, mental, or intellectual disability experience the world in the same way or have the same needs.
The imposition and subsequent suppression of individual identity is further exemplified in the privileging of particular kinds of disability narratives in popular discourse, a convention that many disability studies scholars have struggled against. This characterization is echoed in the work of other scholars like Dolmage Disabled people finds themselves demonized, marginalized, and erased from the mainstream as a result of this medicalized model of disability Withers, I use this lens to foreground how tagging, which may seem to act as a form of labelling, functions differently in fanfiction.
Tagging is a fundamental component of the classification system of many major fanfiction archives. Other major fanfiction archives such as Fanfiction. Tags on AO3 take the form of short strings of text — a single word or a short phrase — that give information about the story that can include genre, characters, relationships between two or more characters, trigger warnings, story content or plot, and commentary from the author.
This user-controlled system makes it possible for users to create and as many disability-related tags to their stories including tags for specific disabilities i. Such tags are not supported in archives with controlled vocabularies, like Fanfiction. The possibilities available to users in controlled-vocabulary archives such as Fanfiction. In this system, users have the power and possibility to more freely express explorations of identity such as disability.
Tagging on AO3, therefore, functions primarily through a bottom-up collective approach by participants, where individual users can influence collective classification schemes. The complete corpus of online fanfiction comprises millions of works in thousands of fandoms.
Though MCU fanfiction on AO3 is only one portion of the ificantly larger collection of fanfiction work, drawing from this large and popular section of the fanfiction community can provide insights that are more broadly generalizable to other fandoms and fanfiction communities. Built on the collection of superhero movies, TV shows, and comic books that began with Iron Man in and by s almost 50 individual works, the MCU canon is globally recognized and successful.
As of Decemberit is the top grossing film franchise worldwide and two of its films, The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultronhold the records for the fifth and seventh highest grossing individual movies worldwide respectively Box Office Mojo, Both its canon and its fandom may, consequently, address difference in greater depth.
I first became interested in the tagging practices of MCU fanfiction because I was a long-time fan of the canon and participant in the fandom but a new scholar in the field of disability studies. The lens of disability studies gave me new avenues to explore my scholarly interest in fanfiction, and my long-time interest in fanfiction provided the foundation for engaging with scholarship in disability.
Adrienne e. raw, phd candidate, t program in english and education
This study came about as I explored the intersection of these two interests, and where I found, as this special issue calls out, a gap in existing scholarship. I began by collecting a small sample of work from the MCU fandom. Under this heading, all works within every smaller fandom are accessible from the same place. To get a range of stories from across all of the MCU fandoms, I selected my sample of work from this megafandom heading.
In order to elicit a selection of tags, yet not go beyond the possible scope of my research for this article, I capped the of works of fanfiction that I collected at Although a small sample, it serves as representative for a preliminary analysis into the tagging practices within the MCU megafandom. To avoid prioritizing one fandom, character, or tag above others, I chose the most-recently updated works under the MCU megafandom heading on December 1, While this data selection does limit the sample to a particular time period, the stories selected represented the breadth of the MCU fandom and were not generated in response to a particular writing prompt or challenge that might have otherwise skewed the nature of the narratives.
Avengers fanfiction peter secretly married wattpad
These stories provide a sample for this article through which we can see demonstrated patterns in the use of disability-related tags. I analyzed the tags of each story and identified each tag that related to disability and its treatment.
For the purpose of this study, I define tags relating to disability as including physical disability, intellectual disability, mental disability or illness, and treatment of disability and mental illness, and I was generous in my determination of whether a tag should be included or not, drawing from words, phrases, and concepts commonly associated with these aspects of disability in scholarship, media, and public discourse. I included tags that were obviously connected to disability i.
Of the stories analyzed, 16 included tags for disability, with a total of 55 tags between them. There were 34 unique disability-related tags and 9 tags that were attached to more than one story.
The tags I drew from this sample see table 1 ranged from the general i. Though there was a wide range of disability represented in these tags, most referred to mental health issues. The four characters explicitly named in these tags represented a mix of those who are represented as explicitly disabled in the MCU canon and those who fandom has interpreted as potentially experiencing disability because of their canonical experiences.
The following tags and their frequency were identified in the sample:.
Queer characters and superheroes
Table 1. A table showing the distribution of the frequencies of the disability-related tags located in a story sample of MCU fanfiction. In order to draw out the trends in fanfiction tagging practices, I used critical discourse analysis of the tags and story summaries, informed by my more than 15 years of experience as a fan in online fanfiction communities and participation in the MCU fandom since its inception, to consider the kinds of tags and disability identities represented in this fanfiction. I was guided in my analysis by questions of how and why disability was tagged and how those tagging practices were situated in relationship to the content of the stories in the sample.
Using this selection as a sample, I analyzed trends in the prevalence of certain kinds of disability tags by more closely reading the relations between tags and the stories to which they are attached. Disability is tagged predominantly in fanfiction when it plays a central role in the plot of the story and, therefore, serves as the key identity of relevance in the formation of the world of the story.
In many cases, the summary of the story alone indicates the role disability plays in the plot of the story. Steve arrives at the mental hospital feeling like his life could never get better. This changes when he quickly befriends another patient. The John Doe doesn't speak, but he starts to open up to Steve.
Perhaps together they can recover.
In this summary, we see the necessity of disability to the story's plot: the story is set in a mental institution and involves a relationship between two characters who are experiencing mental health issues as patients of the institution. Tags can also suggest disability as a key plot element when the summary is ambiguous or does not clearly relate to disability. In my sample, 11 of the 16 stories that include disability tags position disability as a driving force in the plot of these stories in the story summary.
Three further stories deal with disability as the main plot, or represented as a ificant plot point in the story, though it is not explicitly evident from the summary. This demonstrates that tags for disability are used to indicate that disability or a disabled character form a central component of a story. Disability is tagged because it has importance in the narrative of the story.
Disabled characters — with either physical disabilities such as the blindness of Matt Murdock Daredevil or mental illness such as the PT SD of Jessica Jones Jessica Jones — often also appear in stories where disability is not tagged.
When a story includes a canonically disabled character disability is often not tagged in fanfiction unless that disability is also a key plot element in the story. In MCU, there are several canonically disabled characters that are likewise represented in fanfiction as disabled: Matt Murdock Daredevil is blind, Jessica Jones has PT SD, and Steve Rogers Captain Americabefore receiving the super-soldier serum, had a host of physical disabilities.
While not explicitly portrayed as deaf in MCU, Clint Barton Hawkeye is canonically deaf  in some Marvel comics, and is often portrayed that way in fanfiction. However, these canonical disabilities are rarely tagged in fanfiction. It does not include tags for Murdock's canonical blindness because despite that blindness clearly being an aspect of his character, it isn't central in the story itself:.
The importance of fanworks
When canonically disabled characters are tagged in fanfiction, it is primarily because their disability plays a ificant role in the plot of that particular story. As with the examples where disability is key to the story's plot, the role of disability is often evident or inferable from the story's summary. When disability is represented in the tags of MCU fanfiction, that disability is more often mental disability than physical disability.
The summaries quoted above include canonically disabled characters arxiver, ; whitchry9, and make reference to mental illness, but only one makes reference to physical disability. This discrepancy between the representations of mental and physical disability in disability tags suggests a privileging of a particular kind of disability narrative — one in which mental disability is ificantly more represented than physical disability — in the MCU fanfiction community.
However, it must be acknowledged here that the particular composition of MCU canon, in which more characters are explicitly and visibly represented with physical disability i. Fanfiction authors often use fanfiction as an opportunity to explore identities and stories that are under-represented in canon. A canon that more visibly includes physically disabled characters might therefore result in more exploration in fanfiction of unexplored mental disability, since physical disability is more expected and therefore unremarkable.
The mental disability that appears most frequently in MCU fanfiction tags also demonstrates the privileging of a particular kind of disability: mental health issues such as PT SD are tagged more often than mental, intellectual, or developmental disabilities . In fanfiction, mental illness is heavily represented, while intellectual and development disability is nearly invisible. This difference in prominence suggests that a certain kind of mental disability — mental illness — is privileged in fanfiction.
The privileging of these particular narratives problematizes the normalizing activities of fanfiction by contributing to a construction of the disabled identities in this community as one that excludes a ificant portion of the disabled population.