This morning I read through this Daily Dot article titled "The pros and cons of fandom on Tumblr" and wanted to weigh in. IMO, Tumblr is not ruining fandom, but breeding a new kind of fandom that encourages active participation in building connections through one’s blog and presented self in that space.
I agree Tumblr often can make communication harder, but it encourages people to connect outside of the platform. Instant messaging services and IRC channels are far from dead. It encourages people to build a relationship outside of the service, which is fostering interpersonal connections outside of just fandoms. But I disagree with Tumblr making it “impossible” for people to interact with the immense amounts of fan works on the site.
One thing I have loved about Tumblr from the beginning of my research on the platform has been the lack of comments. Sure, people can enable them with services like Disqus, but to really interact with a post, a user has to reblog the item to their own page. This is unique in a really important way: the user has to bring the thing that they want to interact with into their space. This opens up that original piece of fan art to a new audience (the user’s followers), bringing it to people who would not have normally seen the original post.
Additionally, if someone wants to negatively comment on a post, that is also brought into the user’s space. Say someone is a really awesome blogger on LiveJournal: you see their posts and the comments on their posts but nothing more. You don’t know if they’re going to blogs in the fandom and completely trashing other people. Tumblr fosters responsibility for that user: if you want to react negatively or rage about something, your followers are going to see that. Followers are given a more accurate picture of the blogger because any conversation they want to participate in has to come into their space. When a user actively does this, their followers get to see a more complete version of the user’s projected self. While it is a lot more complicated than the ability to leave a passing comment on something, it brings the creation, and subsequently understanding,of a self to another level.
While the act of reblogging can create a passive fandom, who just reblog and signal boost, there are other communities that truly delve into each other’s posts, expanding upon them and adding new insights. I’m reminded here of activism communities and fat-positive communities. I’ve learned so much from following bloggers like Margitte and Jessica, and that’s from them choosing to bring posts that concern them into their own space. Yes, everyone will post cat pictures sometimes, but it’s okay to limit one’s heavy content.
While Tumblr will never be the platform for everyone, I think the DD article breezed over this important point of exhibiting and creating one’s self. All fandom does not focus on this presentation, but when it is there, it can yield far deeper connections between people that would not have necessarily be found on other platforms.