The Death of Tumblr: How fandom will never be the same

The Death of Tumblr: How fandom will never be the same

Tumblr was a hub for online communities, self-representation, and fandom. Here’s a look at the impact the site had.

The social networking site Tumblr harnesses a lot of nostalgia in the hearts of many millennials and older Gen-Z people. It was a hub of cultural connection and online community, and for this reason, many have grown an attachment to what the site used to be. But will there ever be anything like it?

Tumblr was the home to many conversations. From memes insisting that the Babadook is gay to vivid descriptions of the Mountain Lodge Yankee Candle, it can be the home of threaded jokes. It was also the home to many superfan communities, including SuperWhoLock and Harry Potter’s Marauders era. But most importantly, it blended aesthetics, conversations, and fandom with inclusive porn and social justice discourse. This allowed many to represent themselves on Tumblr, and for this reason, Tumblr deserves to be preserved in the digital archives.

Podcaster Ryan Broderick (@broderick on Twitter) tweets about the Babadook Tumblr meme, adding screenshots from the site that expands the joke.

However, due to the Tumblr porn ban in 2018, the site is now a shell of what it once was. Tumblr’s traffic dropped by 30 percent in the months following the ban. In the next three years, visits to the site would plummet by 40 percent. Though the site was not all porn, the porn ban removed Tumblr’s spirit and dismantled fan communities as we knew them altogether. The site left a void that no one else can fill, and it is because of the following reasons:

#Mishapocalypse: Conversations across borders

Tumblr facilitated conversations and Internet events related to fandom.

In 2013, the TV show Supernatural gained a large following on Tumblr, becoming the most reblogged TV show on the site that same year. On April Fool’s Day that year, the Mishapocalypse occurred, a flash mob event where hundreds of Tumblr users changed their profile avatars to a picture of actor Misha Collins — who plays Castiel on Supernatural — taken at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. Before long, the Internet event spread to Facebook and Twitter.

Collins would then respond to the Mishapocalypse on his Twitter account.

Actor Misha Collins (@mishacollins) tweets about the #mishapocalypse, addressing the situation.

This event will not only go down in pop culture history due to its scale but also indicates the power Tumblr had at its peak. Fans transcended social media boundaries and were extensively linked to each other.

Multi-media environment

Unlike Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, Tumblr is not confined to a specific type of media — users are allowed to post any form of media be it text, GIF, images, or video. This allowed people to produce fanart, fanfiction, and other artistic media forms dedicated to their chosen fandom.

Twitter user @abbygov tweets about the different sites Tumblr users have coded in the past.

Tumblr also allowed its users to customize their blogs, which led many young people to develop an interest in coding. The challenge to create using various tools as a method to connect with fandom indicates the strength of the Tumblr fan community. Labor on the site is done with love, devoid of monetization. This allowed many people to develop their anonymous online identities within a safe space, creating the perfect outlet for escapism. For this reason, Tumblr was a practical site as many learned how to express themselves and their interest through different media forms.

Porn’s influence

Tumblr’s embrace of NSFW content before the porn ban further pushes the site’s inclusivity. People of Tumblr found a space to express an “alternative” sexuality, which also blended to fan communities.

Sex workers with various aesthetics and sexualities were welcomed on Tumblr. Mashable reports that this allowed for the development of porn that was more loving, queer, and “soft.” It was a space free of judgment, which extended to its more SFW communities.

Without Tumblr porn, navigating sexuality has become broken off from the rest of social media use. This can be seen as Instagram’s terms of service have signified strict opposition against sexual content, as has Facebook. It is a difficult thing to grapple with, as social media sites are companies that prioritize profits, which will only come from a sanitized version of the Internet where what is “dirty” and what is “clean” exist on two opposite ends of a spectrum. But Tumblr paid the price, as the erasure of sex-positive communities signifies the end of the era of the inclusive platform.

What does this mean for the future?

Mashable reports that fandom has become increasingly fragmented as Tumblr continues to stagnate. Fans no longer have a singular space to link with each other.

But Tumblr’s legacy can be seen on TikTok. This is because TikTok can be an expressive and educational space. Young people can be seen discovering their styles on the platform, as evident through the videos of TikTok creator American Baron. Some videos are also educational, like those by Alan Pahari (@paharikawa). As for memes, Gay Babadook walked so that Gay Pinocchio could run.

TikTok user @jalogann makes fun of Lionsgate’s new Pinocchio movie
A TikTok that speaks about the bizarre history of Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance. @paharikawa on TikTok makes History-focused educational videos.
TikToker @americanbaron makes cinematic TikToks that explore different video and storytelling styles.
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