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In reading through Dr. Jenkins' post of the results of the interview with FanLib's Chris Williams and the comments on it, I'm feeling pretty well confirmed in the conclusion I reached the other day: Whether the FanLib people themselves realize it or not, this venture just plain isn't aimed at the fannish community I know.

You'll note that I didn't say 'the fannish community,' full stop. There's a reason for that. Those "spaces for wheel-reinvention" I mentioned in reply to lyssie's comment the other day? FanLib is potentially the biggest and most disruptive, but it's hardly the first. What is the very first thing 99% of us said when we stumbled upon participatory fandom? "I didn't know anyone else did that!"

Virtually every single one of us reinvented the fanfic wheel in isolation. Prior to the Internet explosion, there were pretty much two outcomes of that: You bumped into someone participating in fandom through newsletters and cons and such and had the "I didn't know!" moment... or you continued to create in isolation, maybe just in your own head and not even on paper, convinced you were nuts. In either case, you may or may not have had any aspirations toward pro/original fiction. If you didn't, life was a helluva lot more fun if you'd found fandom. If you did, there were circles where you could get feedback and develop your skills in both fannish and non-fannish contexts...although if you joined a writing group including people who wrote in certain genres, chances are at least one of them would be in fandom, which brings us back to step one. :-)

Fast-forward to, oh, about 1996 or so. Those among us who were in online fandom at the time will know what I mean when I say I have one word: Buffy. Other fandoms were born around the same time, and were taking advantage of new express lanes on the information superhighway (remember when the media called it that? *g*) as fast as they could be built. But this was something completely else, a genre show that morphed almost overnight from "cult" status to mainstream hit. The WB's marketing team went all-out with the new Web toys like kids on Christmas morning, and gave us *drumroll* the Bronze.

Raise your hand if you wasted HOURS on that board. C'mon, raise 'em higher. Yeah. :-)

And then the inevitable happened: People who wouldn't know a fanzine if it bit 'em on the hand, and who would picture a guy in stripes with a ball and chain if you said "con," were writing fanfic. And posting it to the board. Y'know, the board where half the writing and production staff, two or three of the cast (beware of bored Alyson Hannigan procrastinating painting her ceiling!), and of course Big Ol' Geekboy Joss himself, were sometimes wasting as much time as the rest of us. At least every other day we had to explain to some lovely, enthusiastic person that there were places for that, and it wasn't here. Because if you did it here, they would have to take our toys away.

Now, this in and of itself was nothing new. There had always been the need to grab someone by the back of the belt and yank them back from the edge of the Lunatic Fringe cliff. Or, if they were particularly determined, cut our losses and hide until the "thud" stopped echoing through the canyon and the dust settled. But now we were running out of hands to grab all those belts, not just on the Bronze but all over the place. Peer education is easy when a trickle of true believers is stumbling on your doorstep. When they're arriving in Ellis Island droves, you'd better accept that they're going to start forming their own communities.

Which is, in fact, exactly what's happened. At this stage of the game there's a lot of hinky intersection, especially in spaces like LJ with a wide generational and experience range. But there are also parallel spaces where fannish creativity is flourishing with little or no contact with what I've been calling, for want of a better term, "traditional fandom." Some of them have outright rejected what we try to tell them, and I'm not sure they're entirely wrong to do so. Yeah, we're just trying to give them the benefit of our own experience, but when it comes right down to it? We're trying to cover our own asses. Fandom is by its very nature an anarchic structure. When one or more of us say "Stop peeing in the pool, ya dumb kids!" (and I've seen it phrased both more and less tactfully and/or effectively), we have exactly as much authority as the addressee chooses to give us.

So I was struck by several of the comments on Dr. Jenkins' blog that speak of an "us" that really does only encompass traditional fandom. Certainly when I say "us," that's what I mean. The "us" who create derivative works for fun and no profit, which are expressly not intended to permeate the sphere of the source material or its creators, for the pleasure of the imaginative exercise and the validation of peer appreciation. The "us" that thought of itself as operating in the oral-tradition cultural model long before Dr. Jenkins published about it. The "us" that practices the "gift economy" he speaks of, and which is expanded upon by sarka in this post.

Guess what? It's no longer just "us" and the Lunatic Fringe. The "other" fannish communities are starting to have been around long enough to develop traditions of their own. And to have little or no interest in ours. We might not approve, but by our own ethos, if it doesn't threaten us, that's not for us to judge. The question then becomes: To what extent is the parallel activity a threat? Which aspects of "MySpace fandom" are genuinely careening inexorably toward a destruction of the grey area, dooming us all to be officially lumped in with DVD pirates and/or psychofan stalkers forevermore?

I don't have an answer to that. Some people seem to be working on it, like the commenter who proposed that FanLib's fic archive model might be salvageable if it were restricted to the fandoms for which they have industry sponsorship. That would present its own kinks that would need to be worked out, and I seriously doubt anyone I know would be interested. But it's not hard to imagine it serving somebody else's needs, and not bringing down the industry on all our inoffensive heads with the Thunder of Mighty Intellectual Property Vengeance.

This is also part of what I was thinking of when I said the other day that we were "talking past one another." FanLib personnel keep protesting that they are fans, and that some of them have come out of the fannish community. A lot of people are taking this as pure cynical marketingspeak, but here's the thing: It's probably true. What they're failing to recognize -- albeit with considerably less excuse -- is the same thing industry skeptics like Denis McGrath lack the perspective to grasp: There is no such thing as THE fannish community. There hasn't been for at least a decade, and probably longer. And, as one of the commenters so succinctly put it, we are not the fannish community FanLib is looking for.

But if we know better, it behooves us to clarify that, and also to not assume we are who someone is talking about. In the case of FanLib, well, they just plain blew it. They thought online fandom was online fandom was online fandom, and have now learned otherwise, imperfectly but still to their heartache. In the case of someone like McGrath, who remains baffled by a "community" that "believes a lot of weird and contradictory things", it just points up that neither fandom nor the industry is a monolithic entity, and that it's important to remember that in an age where we interact with one another more than ever. Certainly the mini-kerfuffle just among pro writers about the Doctorow article, with weigh-ins from McGrath, Tanya Huff, Elizabeth Bear, and no doubt others I haven't seen, tells us they're not all of one mind.

I recommend the Bear piece particularly for a wonderfully clear and fairly concise examination of the different purposes served by fanfic and original writing. Although she does McGrath a disservice by linking to his earlier blog post -- which, much as I generally like reading the guy, missed the mark if he was really going for tongue-in-cheek -- rather than the one actually in response to the Doctorow article, in which he specifically states he's on board with the ol' Training Wheels Theory and examines his objections in a much more serious way. And it's worth noting that his reply to one of the comments on the ultra-snarky post (which I just now read, and hadn't previously) is as follows: "If you're not the kind of fanfic writer who engages in the behavior I'm talking about, then fine...feel free to assume that what I wrote isn't about you." So maybe he gets more of what's going on in our yard than even he thinks. I still think one of his two primary concerns -- the idea that ficcers who set about to "fix" canon even think they're actually changing it, let alone that it should affect the canon's creator in any way -- is a reasonable emotional response but hardly rational. But when was the last time you met an emotional response that was?

I keep trying to come up with a conclusion to tie this post together. I think maybe I won't have one until all the FanLib stuff finishes shaking out. While it does, I'll be over here, doing my thing the way I've always done. I rather doubt anyone will miss me.



( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2007 11:27 am (UTC)
Common enough mistake, to see a monolithic entity when instead there's a whole series of amorphous entities pulling in a hundred different contradictory directions at once. You can actually see the mistake being made not just in fandom, but at the level of international politics, past and present. (Probably one of the best cases in point would be World War I, with all those nations with their own interests, dragged into the war by the stupid interlocking alliances, and then each side being treated as a monolithic enemy by the other...)
May. 27th, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)
*nods* Human nature, really. Like I was saying the other day, it's hard enough to grasp everything that one's own "side" has going one. When we acknowledge that "they" have similarly complex dynamics, the brain threatens to asplode.
May. 27th, 2007 12:52 pm (UTC)
>"the idea that ficcers who set about to "fix" canon even think they're actually changing it, let alone that it should affect the canon's creator in any way"

Weird! I've never heard of anyone thinking such a thing! That would require a rather more serious loss of grip on reality than most of us -- there's that word: "us" -- operate under, wouldn't it? Or is that a "new environment" thing?

When I have -- rarely -- wanted to address creators, I've written them letters, of course. (Marvel even printed some of them.) But fanfic is supposed to address fellow fans only; I am usually rapidly unhappy with creators who take to reading fanfic of their own work (at least while it is still in production).
May. 27th, 2007 01:55 pm (UTC)
I think it's a "new environment" thing to some extent. Or at least, I never encountered the mindset before the last decade or so.

The distinction between writing an alternative to a development one didn't like, while still acknowledging that canon is canon, and "fixing" it to the degree that "I don't believe that's canon, I believe this" is one I don't recall having to make before then. And is particularly difficult to explain to anyone looking at fandom from outside.

I am usually rapidly unhappy with creators who take to reading fanfic of their own work (at least while it is still in production).

One would hope they wouldn't be foolish enough to do so, but then one hopes fans aren't foolish enough to send it to them. Still, their warnings against it do come from actual authority structures, so I can't imagine that it happens often.

McGrath made a fleeting mention in one of his posts of the fanfic material he's seen. I'm not sure what he meant by that, since he seems to be quite conscientious about the separation himself. I can only think that something was sent to him. In which case, of course, it's probably unfair to think he should know better than to think it's representative of the whole. Anyone whose judgment is poor enough to foist fic on an industry pro isn't exactly someone to take recommendations from, but that's conventional wisdom from within fandom. And we're certainly the first to admit that there are acres and acres of dreck out there.
(no subject) - dduane - May. 27th, 2007 02:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rez_lo - May. 27th, 2007 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rez_lo - May. 27th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wiliqueen - May. 27th, 2007 07:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dduane - May. 27th, 2007 05:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wiliqueen - May. 27th, 2007 07:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rez_lo - May. 27th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dduane - May. 29th, 2007 06:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wiliqueen - May. 29th, 2007 09:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dduane - May. 29th, 2007 09:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - freifraufischer - May. 29th, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 27th, 2007 12:54 pm (UTC)
Honestly, just a glance through Fandom Wank proves we're not all one, homogenized community. But then again, the last couple of weeks have seen a lot of polarizing stuff (MJ statue, for one), so maybe that's not really fair to outsiders.
May. 27th, 2007 01:58 pm (UTC)
Exactly. We know that, but intra-fandom politicking happens as much under the radar as fic does. There's no reason for them to have even heard of FW, and should they happen to glance at it for some bizarre reason, they have no context in which to place 90% of it.

And even FW still operates on the "us and the Lunatic Fringe" model to a great extent.
May. 27th, 2007 02:53 pm (UTC)
Bookmarked. Thanks for the matter-of-fact reminder that we need to think beyond our immediate circle.

The additional point that preoccupies me, beyond even the question of what legal territory this development might push us (that word again) into, is related to Mr. Williams's quasi-threat that "the landscape will change with or without us" (words to that effect).

I don't think it's possible to overstate the degree to which big media (an oligarchy at this point) understands that a business model based on control of big expensive distribution methods is doomed. They're trying legislative/judicial methods as a substitute means of control--the customer as criminal--but also recognize the need to reassemble the famous mass audience somehow in a way that will keep it within reach of and responsive to advertisers.

So there's a carrot, and there's a stick. FanLib is one of the carrot-providers, and it may also eventually figure into the stick business given that it's basically owned by Yahoo! VCs and CBS, and that the RIAA strategist who gave us the DCMA is the head of their first project.

It's not a conspiracy, just business as usual. And if it works well enough, then maybe we can hope that they'll leave those of us who aren't interested alone.

But big media's bigfooted behavior toward its target markets to date doesn't encourage optimism. So even if a lot of the fans whom FanLib is interested in couldn't care less about "us," it's important that we raise a ruckus as we have been, imo.

But I couldn't agree more that thinking "we" somehow have the Good Word on who's a fan and who's not is simply incorrect. Thank you again for the valuable perpspective.
May. 27th, 2007 03:07 pm (UTC)
D'oh! Reposted to correct: Here via celli...
(no subject) - wiliqueen - May. 27th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 27th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC)
::waves hello:: (I ought to have friended you ages ago, and somehow never did -- I'm via celli's link)

I'm not sure there ever was a single fannish community, but certainly, there isn't now, even though people do come out of their own isolated communities and into what I think of as "fandom" (by which I really mean, multifannish people on livejournal, these days) or to a more traditional fannish experience. But you can spend years writing in a fandom like harry Potter and never encounter anything like that.

But I think that attacks and threats (real or perceived) on fannish practices in general tend to make some members of the community try to pull together -- I mean, I've also seen people on the fannish side claiming to be speaking in this dialogue on behalf of "fandom," and even some talk from otehr fans of that being quasi-official representation. Which is kind of crazy, but I can see where the urge comes from.
May. 27th, 2007 11:07 pm (UTC)

And you're right -- in cases like this, there's the urge to sort of circle the wagons. Which makes a certain amount of sense, but also inadvertently contributes to the perception from the other camps that "this is who/what fandom is."

On the whole, I'd certainly rather the folks I've seen speaking up on Dr. Jenkins' blog, etc., be the ones making the impression, rather than the "ZOMG u stole my story!!!!11!" nutbars.
(no subject) - wiliqueen - May. 27th, 2007 11:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vaznetti - May. 28th, 2007 07:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wiliqueen - May. 28th, 2007 08:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 28th, 2007 08:13 am (UTC)
But there's a line in the sand there between writing what someone thinks should have happened -- exploring the "what if" moments

*nod* And there's even a distinction between these two clauses. "Should haves" are when the author really thinks the show would have been better if it had gone that way. 90% of the time I'm in disagreement with those, but as long as they're not being foisted on creators it doesn't matter. Somebody's enjoying them, they're not doing harm, it's all good.

"What ifs" are things that are fun to play out but we know would never work on the show. Many of us thrive on emphasizing things that would throw a show completely out of whack if they did the same, like 'ships and underutilized characters. I always think of it as thinking like an actor, because I am. :-) The Denis McGraths of the world may never quite be able to wrap their heads around that, nor is there really any particular reason they should. It's their job to look at the show as a whole, and even the best specialized-focus fic would only threaten the balance in their mental image of the world they're working in. That's as much a reason not to pester them with it as the legal issues!
(no subject) - dduane - May. 29th, 2007 06:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wiliqueen - May. 29th, 2007 09:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dduane - May. 29th, 2007 09:10 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wiliqueen - May. 29th, 2007 09:21 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 28th, 2007 12:15 pm (UTC)
Btw, I didn't get to the end yesterday, what with Ben's birthday stuff, but I just wanted to say that I ADORED this and read large chunks of it aloud to people in my living room, and that I'd forgotten how MUCH PURE FUN it can be to watch you write so succinctly, clearly, insightfully, and purposefully about these idea. Ah, for the days when we had little to do than compose thousands-of-words-long posts for FORKNI-L...

But the occasional tidbit here and there...definitely worth it.

Well said, well-referenced, and I spent the whole thing (re: fannish community/old-school-ness/trickle vs. flood/peer education/etc.) nodding and going, "OMG...that's EXACTLY what the deal is and I hadn't quite seen it!" Thank you.
May. 28th, 2007 12:27 pm (UTC)
It actually got WAY longer than I intended, but I've been reading so much interesting stuff the last few days, and wanted to include it all somehow. Glad people are enjoying it. :-)
(no subject) - wiliqueen - May. 28th, 2007 12:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 29th, 2007 12:51 pm (UTC)
Great post.

I'm also occasionally frustrated by the fact that Fandom is expected to have crackpots, and we're tainted by association with them, while nobody blames, oh, Ellen Kushner for Harlan Ellison's misdeeds, you know?

And yes, indeed, on the fact that fandom does police itself, but there's a limit to how effective such policing can be, and frankly that not all such policing is even right to do. (I'm reminded of the dogpile on cousinjean some years back, when she asked for financial contributions to fund her finishing some fannish WIPs. Wrong, yeah, violating community norms, yeah, but did she really deserve that kind of vilification in public? Probably not.)
May. 29th, 2007 01:33 pm (UTC)
while nobody blames, oh, Ellen Kushner for Harlan Ellison's misdeeds, you know?

And thank you eversomuch, brain, for that visual...particularly since I don't even know what Ellen Kushner looks like...

True enough, on an individual level. But there does seem to be a slight tendency to, say, assume print authors as a group are more likely to be intolerant of fic than otherwise. At least from the anecdotal evidence I've observed.

Quite a few of the comments on Tanya Huff's post, f'rinstance, are of the "Thank you for proving you're not all out to get us!" ilk. I really get the feeling these people see her as the exception and aggressively anti-fanfic authors as the norm. They get the publicity, but they might or might not be truly representative of the group, and as outsiders we have relatively limited data on which to base our assessment. The exact same position they're in with us and the Lunatic Fringe.

Wrong, yeah, violating community norms, yeah, but did she really deserve that kind of vilification in public? Probably not.)

And of course over-the-top incidents like that make it hard for us to believe that anyone could possibly not be aware (as Denis McGrath seemed to be) that we do self-police.

Certainly I sometimes forget fannish "public" is still something mostly only fans are aware of. And that's not even considering the subtleties of the honor/shame system in play, and the sometimes-but-not-always overt consensus as to what constitutes honorable or shameful behavior. The industry may not see the penalties for the latter being meted out, or understand just how harsh they can be.
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )


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