Frustrated Fantasies

Misperceptions of Fandom and 'Gone With the Wind'

by Suzanne Enzerink

24 July 2011

Photoshop of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes and Scarlett O’Hara by
Constantijn Smith 

Active and Interactive, Textual and Intertextual

Similar to the way in which Finkle’s article conveyed a sentiment of exclusion, Severson’s article thus differentiates between Windies, “fan[s] so ardent that recreating the burning of Atlanta in an airport hotel banquet room is not out of the question” and who combine intimate knowledge of the novel and film with the collection of artifacts, and non-Windies, who can indeed love the film or novel but who do not spend all of their money and time on Mitchell’s brainchild. Whereas for the interviewed fans their celebration of Gone With The Wind is a positive thing, a “whole social network” as Connie Sutherland, director of the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum calls it, the author immediately attaches a more negative function to their fandom: “It’s also…a way to get through each day” (Kim Severson, ibid). This suggests that Windies have no profound social experience besides their investment in the book/film, and again ties into Jenkins’ observation that fans are often stereotyped as “a lot of overweight women, a lot of divorced and single women” and as misfits (Jenkins 11). Indeed, Severson observes that most fans are “middle-aged straight women and gay men, and usually white.”

This is what fandom, of Gone With The Wind and of other texts, is essentially about: it’s active and interactive, textual and intertextual, but most of all, it is collective.

While Severson never outrightly condemns fans as Finkle did, and while her choice of words is most likely unintentionally negative, the effect is the same: fans are “tidy”, engaged in “full-blown worship”, regard Atlanta as “the promised land”, undertake “pilgrimage[s] there, and treat new revelations “like gold”. It’s hard to miss congruency between these typifications and religious fanaticism, in which the word “fan” does not coincidentally originate.  Fans are again seen as indiscriminate, decorating all rooms in there house with memorabilia and spending “thousands of dollars” on dolls, gowns, books, and other collector’s items. The creation of items related to the text does not stop at fanfics, as there are also fans that sew dresses modeled after the film and sell them. Selina Faye Sorrow sells dresses for $500, but takes most pride in “seeing the expression on a woman’s face when she puts one on” (Severson).

However, Sorrow does confirm Jenkins’ assertion that fans are drawn to a text because of a pre-existing compatibility with their own ideas about a desirable life and the text’s description of it. She remarks that the novel’s setting seems like a “glorious time to be a lady”. However, there are also plenty of examples of radical dismissals of the original. Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone, which narrates the events paralleling Scarlett’s experiences in Gone With The Wind from the perspective of her half-sister and slave Cynara, is the best-known example of fan fiction emanating from the film. While many have critiqued Randall for her indebtedness to Mitchell’s work and the film’s setting, it is precisely through this intertextuality that her critique of Gone With The Wind’s ideology becomes evident. Referring to Scarlett as “Other” and to Rhett as “R”, Randall offers a potent critique of the white fantasy that Gone With The Wind portrayed.

FanFiction.Net also holds many stories that morally realign the characters, turning the O’Hara’s into slaveholding hypocrites. Eroticization (such as slash) and refocalization (foregrounding minor plot details or characters) are other dominant ways of fanfic writing for Gone With The Wind. There’s even the occasional crossover, when Scarlett encounters Bella from the Twilight series in one particularly unusual fan adaptation.

For fans, writing is serious business: some stories exceed 100,000 words and are novel-length, and all stories receive dozens of comments from other fans who suggest storylines or more technical improvements. A small group of fans also organizes fanfic contests, where stories are required to revolve around a particular theme (such as “sunshine” in the most recent one) or a particular character. An even more original way of engaging with Gone With The Wind is a listserv role playing game (RPG), where fans can take on the identity of a character and write to other ‘characters.’

YouTube and other video websites with user-generated content form other ways for fans to manipulate the originals, and a variety of interpretations proliferates. There are hundreds of websites that are all interlinked, and that together constitute a fan community that goes well beyond national or generational boundaries. These communities allow fans to give an account of their own engagement with the text, rather than academics or analysts who give accounts of what it constitutes to be a fan for them. 

PopMatters is such a hybrid enclave, walking the line between the popular and the academic, bringing together fans from different generations, classes, races, genders and nationalities. Collectively, we engage with different texts, different readings, and discuss interpretations. I’m proud to be a fan of many texts, of many artists, and also to be part of a platform that allows readers agency, that allows readers to communicate with producers of popular culture. This is what fandom, of Gone With The Wind and of other texts, is essentially about: it’s active and interactive, textual and intertextual, but most of all, it is collective. The central question that underlies it does not concern meaninglessness of meaningfulness, but meaning: after all, what is a text but what it is to the fan?

ArtemisMisteriosa’s reappropriation of the text is in fact still rather conservative, in that it does nothing to introduce new characters. That is the prerogative of the fan: an appreciation of the original does not preclude an alternate storyline, nor does a contentious relationship to the original producers or text preclude a genuine investment in a text’s characters. Fans are hugely influential, and have made their mark on the Gone With The Wind-enterprise from the very start. After all, if it weren’t for fans, Norma Shearer would have been Scarlett. Douglas Churchill reported for The New York Times and The Montreal Gazette that Shearer dropped the role after a “substantial number of correspondents” had objected to her casting (“Norma Shearer Drops ‘Gone With Wind’ Role.” 1 August 1938. Page 3). The reason for her unpopularity was a rumor that Shearer wanted the script rewritten to make Scarlett a “more sympathetic person”, a rumor perhaps not entirely unfounded as Shearer had done the same with the character of Marie Antoinette in the same-titled film. Collectively, fans are empowered. 

Special thanks: As avid Gone With The Wind fans will have noticed, the splash image is not original either. To further illustrate the liberties that modern technology allows fans, and of course to accompany my story, Melanie now sits where Rhett once was. Constantijn Smith was so kind to employ his photoshop skills towards this end.

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