Played for Laughs: Shaming Fans on Late-Night Talk Shows

Fandom is a space where people discover and develop their artistic craft.

Fotolia.com | © mexitographer

Fotolia.com | © mexitographer

There has been an unfortunate trend in recent years of late-night talk show hosts shoving fan works, particularly slash fanart, into celebrities’ faces. Judging by the clips spanning the international late-night landscape, from The Graham Norton Show to Jimmy Kimmel Live, the purpose of these segments is to shock and appall the celebrity victims and their audiences. Ripped from online fan sites without permission, fan works become the butt of a cruel joke that mocks and ridicules their creators.

Take the following quotation from a segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden:

Krysten Ritter: “I get sent, like, beautiful fanart. Really, really unflattering fanart as well.”
James Corden: “We have some of said fanart right here!”

Actress Krysten Ritter is set up to discuss some of the fan reaction to her Netflix series Jessica Jones and, when she drops the keyword “fanart,” James Corden quickly reaches for a pre-framed copy of a piece of artwork. There’s a clear pattern with these fan segments: they start with a beautifully rendered and non-explicit piece of work, but a quick progression to more clumsily-drawn or sexually-explicit art always follows. Here, Corden announces he will show a piece of fanart and the guests will try to guess which celebrity it depicts. The point of this “game” is to mock and ridicule fanart.

James Corden: “What about this? Who do you think [laughing] this could be?”
Ted Danson: “Whoa. I have so many inappropriate things to say.”
James Corden: “It’s Jennifer Aniston.”
[Absurdly loud cackling from the audience.]
Krysten Ritter: “That doesn’t look anything like Jennifer Aniston.”
James Corden: “It’s Jennifer Aniston on meth, to be honest.”

Another instance of fan shaming happened during an interview with Tom Felton on Conan. Felton is known in the Harry Potter fandom for his open and accepting views of fan activities, even sexually explicit ones, that involve his character Draco Malfoy. During the Conan interview, Felton cheekily describes how he has encountered several “alarming” Drarry fan works, which is Conan’s cue to drop the bombshell – that he has some of said fanart with him. This announcement is accompanied by wild whooping from the audience, a groan from Felton, and a “look of disgust” from Conan’s sidekick Andy Richter. When Conan plasters the now-famous Photoshopped image of a shirtless Draco and Harry lying in bed together across the studio screens, we are treated to roars of laughter from the audience and groans from Felton. To capture the victim’s discomfort, the camera immediately cuts to Felton, who squirms in his chair, tugs his jacket closed, and covers his face with his hand. As the interview continues, the photo flashes twice more across the screen, both times accompanied by loud cackling from Conan and the audience.

To be fair, seeing sexually explicit artwork based on your likeness would be an uncomfortable experience to say the least. But the issue here is with the late-night talk show hosts and producers who force these sexually explicit works upon actors for a comedic reaction. They certainly have the authority to decide not to humiliate fans by splashing their artwork across millions of screens across the world.

Shaming fans doesn’t only happen with fanart: fanfiction is also played for laughs. During a Q&A with the cast of BBC’s Sherlock, moderator and UK author Caitlin Moran mocked and humiliated fans by tricking Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman into reading aloud an explicit “Johnlock” slashfic. The excerpt was from a fic called “Tea” by Mildredandbobbin, ripped from the fanfiction site Archive of Our Own. After the incident, Mildredandbobbin took to Tumblr to express their horror in a now-deleted post.

Mildredandbobbin has since restricted access to their Johnlock fics on AO3 to members only. Now the blurb on their public profile reads: “DO NOT share my work with the cast or crew of any of the works referenced in these stories. Fan works are made for other fans, not to get a reaction from actors.” Until this recent trend of assaulting celebrities with fan works on television, this “do not share” caveat has always been implicit in fan culture.

Anyone who participates in fandom can appreciate that a vivid fanfiction synopsis or a ludicrous doctored image can be great fodder for comedy. However, it is considered unacceptable in fandom to berate or mock creators for their work. When late-night talk show hosts plaster fanart across the screen, it is always to ridicule. And, as Mildredandbobbin can attest, discovering your creative hobby being played for laughs on national television takes an emotional toll. Fandom is a space where people discover, practice, and develop their artistic craft. Shaming fans to their celebrity idols is a surefire way to stifle this creative outlet.

About Malory Beazley (35 Articles)
Malory has taken her interest in fandom to the academy, penning a Master's thesis entitled "Out of the Cupboards and Into the Streets!: Harry Potter Genderfuck Fan Fiction and Fan Activism." You can find her in Nova Scotia, sipping coffee, writing fiction, and reading slash.

2 Comments on Played for Laughs: Shaming Fans on Late-Night Talk Shows

  1. Honestly, as someone who’s been in and around online fandom for a while, I think with the expansion of social media and how it is now a valid popularity meter, this is going to keep on happening. And unfortunately, in the case of the author, what happened there was too bad. Other than that, it’s just a silly gag on TV that everyone will forget about after two weeks. I think fans need to be able to laugh at themselves.

    • FAN/FIC Magazine // September 11, 2016 at 1:56 pm // Reply

      I agree. As fans we take our fandoms, ships, and characters very seriously, which is why it’s so important to have a sense of humour about the things that might seem odd or perplexing to those outside fandom. Where the “fan shaming” trend becomes more insidious, in my view, is when real life identities (sexuality, ethnicity, ability, gender) become the butt of the joke.

      This issue is discussed in the article That’s Wrong! Homophobia, Slash Art, and Late-Night Television if you’re interested. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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