Tyler Hoechlin, Sterek, Conventions and The Fourth Wall

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A lot has happened in the Teen Wolf fandom over the last few days, some of it good, some of it bad and some of it depends on where you’re standing. It began with a single fan’s experience which ballooned in a fandom-wide issue that caused all kinds of trouble – particularly in regards to a certain Australian convention company that kept putting its foot in its mouth. This article is not to place blame or cause more drama. It is simply an attempt to clarify what went down and start a conversation about it. Stuff like this happens in fandom all the time; this is not exclusive to the Teen Wolf fandom or a particular ship so try to take it with a grain of salt.

A couples of days ago, Tumblr user evolmymind made a post saying that at the recent Days of The Wolf Convention in Chicago, Tyler Hoechlin politely declined to sign a Sterek (Stiles/Derek) related artwork. The artwork in question was The Sterek Book, which was recently used by The Sterek Campaign to raise money for charity. This book is incredibly respectful, does not include any explicit or offensive artwork and has been given to Tyler Hoechlin and other MTV staff on previous occasions without any problem. Here’s what happened in evolmymind‘s own words:

“When it came time for the end of the con on sunday and we got in line to get our autographs i was ecstatic and nervous for him to sign my Sterek book. I had some other art for him to sign before i gave him the copy and as soon as i took it out and put it on the table he looked happy and sad all at once. As soon as i told him that i would love for him to sign my copy he said “I’m so sorry but I’m not allowed to sign anything sterek related” as soon as he said those words i completely shut down.”

Fandom’s responses varied. Many wanted to spread the word to fellow fans so that they would not be caught in a similar situation. Some used the event as a called to arms, suggesting fans take only Sterek related material to future cons in order to test the extent of the ban. Others used the information to validate their negative opinions of Sterek shippers. And of course there were those longing for the return of the imaginary fourth wall. Most were simply genuinely confused as to how and why this had happened. Whatever the response, there were a lot of un answered questions.

“So, is it the cons then? Is that what they’re saying? Then why not come out and say it EXPLICITLY?” – natasha-stark-rogers

“Did anyone ever stop and think that maybe asking Tyler to sign something that has to do with Sterek might possibly make him a little uncomfortable?” – dapperangel

“Does it occur to no one that their agents/PR team/handlers/etc could ban them from saying certain things?” asagi-s-garden

“i don’t understand why? seriously where is the harm (unless its explicit)” sometimeredhead

“So the real question is… if they’re not allowed to sign Sterek items, are the other ships banned too??” – @terinay21

It’s understandable why so many fans were upset. evolmymind‘s original post is distressing because most fans can identify with the fear meeting someone you admire only to have that moment tainted by rejection. It was also a huge disappointment for those that were hoping to get their copy of The Sterek Book and/or other ship related artworks signed at future conventions. Fans reached out to convention organisers, actors, fellow fans, and official sources in the hopes of clarifying the situation.

Those that blamed the artwork in question – The Sterek Book – received this response from one of the books creators: “MTV knew about us giving the book to Hoechlin and we got green light to do it. And to whoever has seen or read the book, its content has nothing to make anyone uncomfortable.” They later released the audio recording of Tyler Hoechlin receiving the gift as prove that he was not uncomfortable.

Both fan run conventions Howler Con and Bite Con indicated that they will not ban any fan works unless it is explicitly stated in the guests contract. But Rouge Events, which is running the upcoming convention Wolf’s Bane 2, said: “Only official items can be signed at the events, This is DVDs, Books, Con Guide, 10 by 8s purchased from event & stuff from dealers room.” Apparently this is not a new policy but previously it has not been strictly enforced.

Even the Official Teen Wolf Tumblr got in on the action. “all tw fans are our number one priority. jeff davis, mtv, viacom, mgm, fox home entertainment, or any other person or company who owns or distributes teen wolf has never banned anything from a convention. the only conventions with an official authorized presence from mtv are sdcc and nycc, and we have not (and will not) ban anything from there. sterek is even nominated for ship of the year, and its shippers are nominated for fandom feat of the year at the mtvu fandom awards, which will be held from sdcc.” To anyone that has been involved in fandom for sometime, this response is almost unfathomable. They did not have to respond to this and it’s kind of amazing that they did.

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Actress Eaddy Mays (Victoria Argent), who is akin to the Orlando Jones of the Teen Wolf fandom, reached out to both evolmymind and The Sterek Campaign. In a Tumblr post she expressed her sympathy, concern and confusion: “Let me say this much now, with the little info I currently have, IF this is a policy of a particular Convention, that is their Right as business in what is (for the most part) a Market Economy.  BUT, at the table in front of the talent is not the place to be told of such rules.  I’m sorry this happened to you and/or anyone else.” She linked to the Creation Entertainment (the company responsible for Days of The Wolf) web-site, which states: “Please note that if you have autographs as part of your ticket package benefits you will need to have something for the celebrities to sign. They will sign anything you bring from home and there is a wide assortment of photos and other collectibles on sale at the convention.” Creation has yet to officially comment on the situation.

Unsurprisingly there is no definitive answer as to who or what caused Tyler Hoechlin to decline this particular artwork and chances are fans will never receive one. These things happen at conventions and Creation has had shipping related issues before in the Supernatural fandom. If this discussion had continued to focus solely on evolmymind’s experience it might have died rather quickly after these responses, unfortunately that is not where it ends.

The conversation continued as reports from Team Wolf Con in Paris began to appear confirming that evolmymind’s experience was not an isolated event. Apparently Tyler Hoechlin declined to sign a Sterek t-shirt. Other fan art was signed at the conventions suggesting that it was not a blanket ban like Rouge Events “official items only” policy. This caused a lot of discomfort and outrage within certain circles of the fandom and re-ignited the well worn fandom argument about whether or not fan practices (like shipping – particularly slash) should be kept behind closed doors.

“teen wolf fans who are being whiny babies about their ship getting “banned” from conventions, maybe it’s because questions about the stereks massively derail panels and take up huge amounts of time and ignore the other actors on the show?” – soufex

“I was at the con in Chicago last weekend and spent the entire time praying no one would mention Sterek. Not because I dislike it (b/c let me tell you, I fucking love Sterek, okay?) but b/c it very obviously makes the actors uncomfortable at times… I miss the times when talking about your ship in public was a no-no.” – dapperangel

“Separation of ship and show. That’s my personal position.” deanplease

“Shipping questions and art/objects for signing often makes the actors uncomfortable. And they are allowed to be uncomfortable. It also makes the FANS uncomfortable. Many people don’t ship anything. Most people in the audience don’t want to have that stuff brought up” – deanplease

“I’m a fan that keeps to myself and twitter about sterek, I don’t flaunt it in peoples faces and ask about it at cons and stuff” – @howlstiel

“but why would people think that they can take sterek fanart considering how risky that can be #idiots #Wolfsbane2” – @bottomvich

For those that are not aware, this is not a new debate. While fan practices have received an increasing amount of mainstream coverage in recent years (thanks 50 Shades of Grey) much of fandom still happens in the shadows of “the fourth wall”. According to Aja Romano: “The fourth wall is what insulates us, protecting us from their [actors, creators, etc.] often harsh judgment, and sometimes even from real-life repercussions. A mix of Fight Club-like codes of silence (the first rule of fandom: do not talk about fandom) and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell-level feigned ignorance, this imaginary wall is what creates an impregnable barrier between fandom and everybody else.” It is for this reason that many believe that fan practices, like shipping, have no place in fan/creator interactive spaces like conventions.

Fandom has been known to rigidly self-police this code of silence. At a Supernatural convention last year (Salute to Supernatural 2013), a fan was booed when she began to ask Jensen Ackles a question about Dean Winchester’s sexuality. The fan “started her question with “I’ve loved seeing Dean’s character become more comfortable with himself this season. I’m bisexual and I’ve noticed some possible subtext…” She was immediately drowned out by a chorus of booo’s. While a bodyguard confronted her, Jensen said that he couldn’t hear the question, and that he planned to move on. “I meant no disrespect,” said the girl, and that was the end of that story.” Most reasonable fans obviously prefer to avoid this kind of embarrassment so they do not often ask questions about non-canon ships and/or fan practices.

On the flip side there are many fans that have fought incredibly hard to make it clear that fan practices are not something to be ashamed of. Fans don’t want to have to hide something that they see as a harmless and creative expression of love.

“I am beyond words, I am not someone who is close minded and I believe all ships should be allowed to be supported.” – sterekvibes

“I can’t really voice it precisely but I’m just really pissed that some people think slash shipping is such a poisonous thing that it goes far to getting banned. That they suppress the fans, the actors, and everyone around them in something they positively love.” – derphale

“I think if actors and writers are willing to accept thousands of dollars in appearance fees, then they should be willing to listen to why the fans are there. I also think fans need to always be respectful of each other’s ships, even when they conflict, so as to keep shipping a wholly positive issue at cons, and while they have a right to bring up discussion of their ship, they shouldn’t expect endorsement of it.” – wordsonapage2

“Is shipping an issue? It shouldn’t be. We’re living in the 21st century where we celebrate holidays that represent the end of censorship and liberty.” –  sinyhale

While fandom’s self censorship is usually tolerated as differing opinions, when an outsider tries to regulate fan practices they often become understandably defensive. This defensive stance was seen after Australian convention company Culture Shock Events, who are running the Creatures of the Night Convention in Sydney, stated that fan art would be allowed but “not depicting any sex act including kissing if it’s not depicted on screen”. They further clarified that romantic fan art featuring canon couples – like Stiles/Lydia – would be allowed because they are shown kissing on screen. Many fans thought this was offensive to those that ship non-canon parings, particularly Sterek fans who felt like they were being singled out.

In response to complaints Culture Shock Events altered their stance: “To avoid offense to our guests and to avoid confusion NO FAN ART at all will be allowed to be signed at Creatures of the Night. Only official items can be signed at the event. That is DVDs Books, Magazines, Calenders, and 8×10 photos available at the event. If it is an official item it can be signed, fan art is not official and therefore cannot be signed.” This is pretty disappointing for fans attending this convention considering fan art is such an important part of the fandom experience. To make matters worse Culture Shock Events again further clarified their policy by saying “professional ‘fan art’ where the characters are treated with the respect” will probably be allowed on the day but “Fan art like Sterek art however does not depict the characters, or actors, as they are on screen” so it will not be permitted.

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This is a fairly elitist and limiting perspective on fan art and the idea that non-canon pairings are disrespectful is rather upsetting. It certainly doesn’t present Culture Shock Events as a fan friendly environment. There is every reason to make sure no one brings pornographic or offensive material but there is no reason to ban all non-canon fan works unless it has been explicitly stated by the talent involved. It’s utterly ridiculous that all ship-based fan art is now banned from a convention in Australia just because an actor politely declined to sign something on the other side of the world. It’s also a clear indication that this is part of a bigger problem and an important reminder that what happened with Tyler Hoechlin at Days of The Wolf was not the cause of this meltdown but rather a symptom.

Due to the growing ease of communication between fans and producers there seems to be an assumption within some groups that actors and creators and even official social media have a more comprehensive understanding of fandom than is likely considering their relatively limited exposure. This is particularly apparent in the Teen Wolf fandom.

Teen Wolf is definitely what I would consider a fandom friendly show. Despite some criticism, the people involved in the production and promotion of Teen Wolf have generally been very welcoming, supportive and non-judgmental of fan practices (at least in comparison to others). They held a fan fiction contest, the post production department has a fan art gallery and the Season 3B DVD came with a book filled with fan works. Often the actors would happily play along with fans, revealing their own shipping preferences and head canons. Although not without its problems (they took it too far at times), this attitude is definitely something different.

That said, this attitude also creates the illusion of understanding between fans and producers. Some fans assume that because they know the definition of the word “slash” that they understand the practice on a fandom level, which is just not realistic. They really only have limited access to fan practices and the majority of their knowledge still comes from non-fandom sources that are not known for being particularly flattering.

This is where fandom’s insistence on maintaining the illusion of the fourth wall becomes particularly problematic. Fandom’s blanket self-censorship doesn’t work because there are always those willing to talk about shipping anyway. Besides, it’s not like it’s actually hidden. Most fan practices take place in public forums that are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Those involved in production, including actors, are often only exposed to the stuff their friends send as a joke or the things journalists use to make them uncomfortable and of course their interactions with the few shameless people that are willing to face the wrath of the fandom (usually because they don’t care what fandom thinks).

It is perfectly reasonable to speculate that someone who does not have an accurate understanding of fan communities could have enough negative experiences with a particular fan group that they no longer feel safe engaging with them. As fans, we know that the actions of a few do not reflect the community as a whole but that doesn’t really matter if no one ever sees the good aspects of fandom.

Blanket bans from outside authorities don’t work and neither does fandom’s code of silence. All it does is prevent healthy conversation. While that conversation might not always go the way you want it to, it’s better than closing your eyes and pretending it’s not happening.

For example look at what happened during a panel featuring Tyler Hoechlin at Team Wolf Con this weekend. When faced with one of fandom’s ultimate taboo questions: “Do you ship Sterek?” Tyler Hoechlin responded in probably the most respectful way we can expect from someone that doesn’t really ‘get’ slash. (Quotes taken from not-the-alpha‘s transcript, partial footage can be found here).

“I know that’s like a big, like, a fan fic thing, I know that everybody, kind of, kind of, everybody talks about that,” said Hoechlin. “But for me, personally, just because I have so much respect for Derek as the character and for Stiles as the character that… for me, it’s like, to live in that, or to really think about that… I… just for me, personally, as the actor playing the character… I feel like I would be disrespecting the character, so I don’t really entertain it, or even think about it, just because for me, it’s such a separate thing, it has… it doesn’t really have anything to do with what happens on the show.”

He’s clearly nervous (considering how the fandom responded to Tyler Posey‘s negative comments about Sterek it’s understandable) and he doesn’t quite know how to respond to the question truthfully without offending anyone – which is a skill that actors/writers/producers really need to learn – but he does a reasonable job. He did suggest that Sterek was disrespectful to his character, which is not great – I completely understand why people might be offended by that – but he does kind of clarify that later when he says: “it’s not a, it’s not disrespect, it’s not anything like that. I understand, I don’t personally understand… It… Completely. Um, I appreciate it.” Really what makes this response so wonderful is that he takes it seriously. He doesn’t brush it off with a joke or try to vilify the people that like it (that was Posey’s mistake). It’s exactly the kind of respect that slash fans – and fans in general should be hoping for.

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Unfortunately sometimes opening a genuine and respectful conversation means that fans might not get the answers they were hoping for, which sucks. There is no way to sugar coat it. It’s not fun to hear that something you’re invested in is not on the cards. It doesn’t matter how many times it happens, it still hurts (don’t anyone tell you that it’s unreasonable to have hope – anything is possible; anyway just because Tyler Hoechlin apparently doesn’t ship it doesn’t mean you can’t). But it is possible to be upset by Hoechlin’s words and still respect them. This is not the only response of course, but it’s the one worth encouraging.

@TylerL_Hoechlin is an extremity kind and respectful man. You may not agree with or like what he has to say, but he isn’t rude or hateful.” – @THoechlinNet

“Bless Hoechlin for being amazing once again, he may not ship Sterek…but he’s respectful for the people that do and that’s all I need” – @lizponce

“I totally respect Hoechlin’s opinion even if I don’t share it. I’m trying to chill out. And I’ll surely focus on other shows since I’ve lost my main reason to watch Teen Wolf” –  wolveshowls

“what Hoechlin did today is nothing but classy and amazing, he stated his opinion but was completely considerate of the his fans, respectful of opinion and in awe of the amazing talent that takes part on the Sterek fandom” – blaineswolf

“I think Hoechlin feels deeply about Derek and doesn’t think he could be in a good relationship at this point, let alone one with someone he obviously thinks very highly of, without messing things up. He is so earnest and thoughtful about these things—how can you hate on him for it?” – fauvistfly

“Thank you Tyler Hoechlin for being amazing once again. You are always so thoughtful, respectful and also classy as fuck.” – thewolfwhostolemyheart

This is has been an eventful couple of days and the Teen Wolf fandom has no doubt experienced the whole range of human emotion. While much of what was said were purely in-the-moment, emotional responses, there is quite a bit that is worth taking away from what happened this weekend.

For starters, take note that it seems Tyler Hoechlin has indicated he will not be signing Sterek related fan art for whatever reason. Fans have every right to be disappointed by this news and further information would be welcome but it’s important to be respectful. As Eaddy Mays said: “if you already know there is an issue with someone, then give that person some space about it.”

There have also been blanket fan art bans at other conventions including Wolf’s Bane 2 and Creatures of the Night, which is very off-putting. Fans might choose not to support these companies in the future (maybe we will see an increase in fan run cons like BiteCon and HowlerCon) but those who already have tickets need to know about these limitations.

EDIT: Culture Shock Events has lifted the blanket ban on fan art – although it is subject to approval on the day so bare that in mind.

An official source gave an unprecedented response to a situation they were not directly involved in: “jeff davis, mtv, viacom, mgm, fox home entertainment, or any other person or company who owns or distributes teen wolf has never banned anything from a convention. the only conventions with an official authorized presence from mtv are sdcc and nycc, and we have not (and will not) ban anything from there.” That is something.

Finally it’s important to remember that this is not the beginning of this conversation, nor is it the end. And both sides still have a lot to learn. We need to talk about these issues, but there is no point in blaming or focusing on an individual event with very specific circumstances a larger issue. This is not Tyler Hoechlin’s fault, this is not the Sterek fandom’s fault, it’s not even Teen Wolf‘s fault. No one is blameless but there it’s a waste of time to point fingers at each other when we could be working together to avoid these problems in the future.

On a personal note: I really want everyone everyone involve in making the things we love to see what fandom can be when it’s at its best and we can only do that if we stop thinking of it as a dirty little secret. 

Author: Undie Girl

Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.

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