English Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Fans are Going to See it Any Way They Want': The Rhetorics of the Voltron: Legendary Defender Fandom

Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

English (Rhetoric and Writing)

First Advisor

Lee Nickson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Neil Baird (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Montana Miller (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Salim Ahmad Elwazani (Other)

Abstract

The following dissertation explores the rhetorics of a contentious online fan community, the Voltron: Legendary Defender fandom. The fandom is known for its diversity, as most in the fandom were either queer and/or female. Primarily, however, the fandom was infamous for a subsection of fans, antis, who performed online harassment, including blackmailing, stalking, sending death threats and child porn to other fans, and abusing the cast and crew. Their motivation was primarily shipping, the act of wanting two characters to enter a romantic relationship. Those who opposed their chosen ship were targets of harassment, despite their shared identity markers of female and/or queer.

Inspired by ethnographically and autoethnography informed methods, I performed a survey of the Voltron: Legendary Defender fandom about their experiences with harassment and their feelings over the show’s universally panned conclusion. In implementing my research, I prioritized only using data given to me, a form of ethical consideration on how to best represent the trauma of others. Unfortunately, in performing this research, I became a target of harassment and altered my research trajectory. In response, I collected the various threats against me and used them to analyze online fandom harassment and the motivations of antis.

The primary patterns from the participants in my survey demonstrate a community that was heavily influenced by online harassment from a vocal minority and attacked in both physical and digital spaces, facing slurs, doxxing, death threats, and, primarily, accusations of supporting child pedophilia and incest, as antis falsely claimed characters non-antis favored were related or underage. Further complicating fans’ trauma was the show’s ending, in which the woman of color lead was killed, and the queer character marginalized, resulting in a community left questioning if their harassment was worth the levels of trauma from both antis and the show itself.

This dissertation contributes to our understanding of what online harassment looks like, how identity markers shape the rhetorics behind harassment, and what future studies are necessary to better address such harassment. Additionally, through my experiences with harassment, I option several steps future researchers should consider when performing, teaching, and planning research methodologies.

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