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fannish histories

[ADMIN] The joy of loopholes

Last year, Andrea Horbinski wrote a self-introduction post here that started out like this: There’s a certain propriety to the fact that I’m sitting in an apartment in Kyoto, Japan, as I write this post. Three and a half years ago, on a Fulbright Fellowship to Doshisha University in Kyoto, faced with a lot of free time and nothing in particular with which to fill it other than reading manga, biking around the city, and searching for interesting things on the internet, I fell (back) into fandom, and thence into the Organization for Transformative Works. I didn’t know it then, but that was a transformative moment for me. I suppose there’s a certain propriety to the fact that I’m sitting in a graduate student office at Doshisha University in Kyoto as I write my own self-introduction post. My road to Doshisha, and into the OTW, was completely separate from and unrelated to Andrea’s, but unfolded so similarly that I almost feel like I can point at her post and just skip my own introduction. She even likes the same titles I do. But I’ll take this opportunity to assert my individuality. I’m Nele Noppe, a Japanologist by trade, currently in the middle of a PhD fellowship at a Belgian university but spending a few years in Japan to learn about doujin culture (doujinshi and related fanworks). My research compares how English-language and Japanese-language fandoms exchange works. More precisely, I’m interested in the architectures and circumstances of those exchanges: what technology is used, what the legal limitations are, what languages are used, what the involvement of non-fans is like, and how all that influences what sort of works are made. I’m endlessly intrigued by what happens when technology, law, and large groups of very determined and enthusiastic people collide. As for the fannish side of things, I grew up on Franco-Belgian comics, but the American Elfquest was my first really active fandom. After buying a Zetsuai 1989/BRONZE mook at a con, I tumbled into yaoi and never looked back. I spent my last years of high school poring over dearly-bought Japanese-language BRONZE and Kizuna tankobon with a tattered kanji dictionary in hand, and enrolled in a Japapanese Studies program as soon as I could. More than half of my fannish life was spent memorizing everything on Aestheticism, roving around the old Anime Web Turnpike, and chatting on Yahoo! mailing lists. LiveJournal, fanfiction.net, and other big fannish hubs only came onto my radar after I wandered into Harry Potter fandom sometime around 2006. Right now, I write, read and draw mostly about Avatar: the Last Airbender, and lurk in a variety of manga fandoms. Avatar is a good fandom to be in right now, and not just because the new series The Legend of Korra rocks and I found a bunch of people who share my tiny OTP. As mentioned above, the clash of technology, fans, and law fascinates me no end, and parts of Avatar fandom have been getting into some pretty interesting clashes lately. Take the neverending string of online leaks from the new series, from clips to whole episodes. At first it seems to have been an insider who was smuggling out clips, but once they stopped, others took over and started tricking Nickelodeon’s website into giving up upcoming episodes early. Unless I’m mistaken, last week’s episode 5 was the first one that managed to air without being preceded by any leaks whatsoever. And of course everything that was leaked or uploaded to the official site was immediately re-uploaded elsewhere so fans outside the US could access it as well. Leaving aside the dubious legality of everything that’s been going on around Korra, what strikes me the most about this ongoing situation is how utterly unprepared Nickelodeon turned out to be to keep the leaks from happening, and people from sharing them around. (Viewer numbers for Korra were fantastic, leaks or no leaks.) Amazon met with a similar fate. The first part of the Avatar tie-in comic The Promise was supposed to be published only this January, but it was circulating online by November last year. Amazon made the issue available for pre-order and enabled the “look inside” feature, which shows every visitor a couple of pages from any book. A bunch of Avatar fans descended on the site, saved the handful of pages each of them could see, and started putting their puzzle pieces together. Nearly the whole comic had been reconstructed on Tumblr before Amazon realized what was going on and put some brakes on “look inside”. (Sales for The Promise were fantastic as well.) This is the sort of creative loophole-exploiting that, to me, is typical of the interesting times we live in. Individuals have technologies at their fingertips that even large companies couldn’t dream of just a few decades ago – and apparently can’t really grasp the significance of even now. The laws that govern the use of those technologies are completely out of sync with what people can actually do, or think they should be allowed to do. And there are a lot of people working together all around the world in order to communicate better and route around whatever hurdles are in their fannish paths. I expect that I’ll spend most of my Symposium posts talking about those things, and often from a transcultural perspective, given my focus on doujin. I’m thrilled to be here and get a chance to learn from you all.

[ADMIN] A Historian Says Hello

There’s a certain propriety to the fact that I’m sitting in an apartment in Kyoto, Japan, as I write this post. Three and a half years ago, on a Fulbright Fellowship to Doshisha University in Kyoto, faced with a lot of free time and nothing in particular with which to fill it other than reading manga, biking around the city, and searching for interesting things on the internet, I fell (back) into fandom, and thence into the Organization for Transformative Works. I didn’t know it then, but that was a transformative moment for me. But let me back up for a second. Greetings, salutations, and hello! 日本語が話す方に、初めまして!My name is Andrea Horbinski, and I am an academic in training, a historian, and a fan. I’m also a member of the OTW’s International Outreach committee, and I’m very excited to begin blogging for Transformative Works and Cultures‘ Symposium blog! So, let me give you a bit of an extended self-introduction. At the moment I’m a Ph.D. student in modern Japanese history at the University of California, Berkeley, with hopes of writing a history of manga for my dissertation. Manga, you say? You mean Japanese comics? Yes and yes. Watching anime in high school–are there any Revolutionary Girl Utena or Outlaw Star fans around?–got me into Japanese language classes at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where I eventually got my degree in both Classics and Asian Studies. My Fulbright Fellowship after college saw me researching hypernationalist manga in Doshisha’s media studies department, and I’m in the history department at Berkeley now, so as you can tell, I’m someone who believes passionately in the virtues of interdisciplinary approaches! My fannish curriculum vitae, as it were, is also a patchwork. I’ve been watching and reading science fiction and fantasy since about the age of four, but despite putting a few toes into Star Wars fandom when the first of the prequel movies came out, anime was the first thing I self-defined as a fan of, in high school, followed by manga in college. I still think of myself as an anime and manga fan first, but over the past few years I’ve greatly enjoyed expanding my fannish interests beyond anime and manga back into book and media fandoms, and my fannish output beyond AMVs into fanfiction and vids. It would take too long to give you a full list of my abiding fannish obsessions, but I have to mention Star Trek as well as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings as well as Harry Potter and the Young Wizards, the manga of CLAMP and Urasawa Naoki and Arakawa Hiromu, just to give you a sense of my interests. Some of my current fannish obsessions are CLAMP’s new manga Gate 7, the Narnia books and movies, the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series, Doctor Who and X-Men: First Class, and I’ve been watching the Puella Magi Madoka Magica anime in utter fascination. For me, the passion of fandom is a necessary part of my academic work, and the insights I’ve gained through fandom into a wealth of topics and issues, including history and writing (about) history, are invaluable. I’ll be writing from Kyoto, where I’m studying classical Japanese, for the rest of the summer before heading back to California for another full year of reading, writing, watching and working. I don’t know what exactly I’ll write about yet, but I’m hoping to give back a little of the enriched perspective I’ve gained here on the blog, and I’m very much looking forward to the conversations that will undoubtedly arise from writing and reading here, both online and in person. So, until then!

[ADMIN] Dana says farewell

It’s been exactly a year since this blog was launched, and I am proud and pleased to have helped get it started. Thank you, Nina and Karen, for inviting me to the party! This will be my final regular post — I’m handing off blogging duties to what feels, to me, like the “Next Generation” of acafans! Andrea, Lisa and Alex will keep you thinking and entertained as our Symposium blog marks the beginning of its second year.

Back in 2007, when the founders of the Organization for Transformative Works announced the goals for this new group, I was immediately an enthusiastic supporter, and I remain a believer and a dues-paying member. No organization or group can speak for all of fandom, of course, but the OTW is doing things in regard to fandom that I completely support. The OTW and the journal with which this blog is affiliated are examples of the fact that fandom appreciates its own history and recognizes its importance, and that our fan works aren’t merely disposable scribblings, but worthy of celebration, preservation and study.

A formal affiliation with an organized group, or volunteering with the OTW or the journal, is by no means necessary to doing fandom, of course, and there are pretty much as many ways of doing fandom as there are fans.

That said, here are some things fandom has done for me personally — some benefits and some gifts I have in my life because of fandom.

–Friends around the world, mostly women, including some awesome and inspiring creative collaborators. (My touchstone here is the quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: “Well-behaved women seldom make history”!)
–An appreciation for a bunch of shows and movies I would never have discovered any other way, and the discovery of the myriad joys of fan fiction, vids and art inspired by those shows and movies. (I knew about The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek way before I found fandom, but there are a baker’s dozen of new-to-me fandoms I would never have discovered without the squee of my friends-lists.)
–An outburst of creativity unprecedented in my life before fandom, and a serious recommitment to fiction writing. Related to this: If I had not discovered fandom, I doubt I would have had the experiences that led me to volunteer for teaching creative writing at my university.
–Knowledge and growth in a range of subjects I would never have researched, studied or even cared about without being exposed to them through fandom, and the opportunity (and a platform) to share and discuss my learning.
–A sharpened commitment to feminism and minority issues, including LGBT issues, a heightened attention to media depictions of same, and also, new appreciation for how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.
–An internet community that’s helped me feel less isolated, particularly when my kids were in diapers and face-to-face socializing and support was hard to find in the almost suburbia/almost rural area where I live. Anyone who thinks online friendships aren’t real? Has never had one.
–New and amazing flavors of joy, fun, and humor.

I look forward to continuing to participate in fandom (and you might very well see guest posts from me here in the future), so this isn’t really goodbye. Keep misbehaving, fandom, in all your multifaceted identities and ways! And do keep in touch. You can find me on Dreamwidth at sterlinglikesilver.

[META] Fannish trees in a really big forest

Fans, of course, get intense about what they are fannish about. To use a cliche that Tolkien has already masterfully embroidered upon in his fable “Leaf by Niggle”, fans intentionally and gleefully lose sight of the forest in favor of the trees, or even one tree, or even a single leaf.

And yet it’s sometimes extremely educational and even inspiring to try to get a view of the forest — even, when possible, a bird’s eye view. Or a Time Machine view.

This is what Nancy Reagin and Anne Rubenstein urge in their detailed tour of historical fandoms in the last issue of Transformative Works and Cultures,, which they guest edited. Their opening editorial is humorously called “I’m Buffy, and You’re History”, and they give a tour of fan communities, broadly defined and extending back through time much further than I’m usually accustomed to thinking about.

This issue wanted to focus on fan communities before network TV and certainly before the internet, and the articles focus on things like female fans of British movie stars and the people who wrote fan letters to Willa Cather. And yet Reagin and Rubenstein want to show there is a historical continuity between these groups and Star Wars or Doctor Who buffs.

They write, “This special issue of TWC represents, as far as we know, the very first published collection of historical studies of fan communities and activities…. When we discuss ‘fans,’ we are referring to people who were active participants in popular culture, often decades earlier than is often acknowledged in modern fan studies.”

The questions they are interested in are fascinating: “How did changes in the material conditions of leisure, entertainment, and play relate to changes in ordinary people’s worldviews? What difference did the rise of mass media make in everyday life? How did changes in seemingly trivial everyday practices connect to larger social and cultural transformations? What was the relationship between participation in leisure activities and participation in politics? How did communities of fans contribute to historical change?”

I know I’ve been very prone to try to use fandom as a refuge from the stresses and challenges of “real life,” but they remind me that fandom and fan activities are definitely part of real life, part of history, and furthermore, worthy of study: “[A]cademic historians can offer … research and narratives that enable fans to connect their own particular fandom’s story to much broader changes over time, locating themselves and their communities in a global history of culture. We can trace important social, legal, and economic changes that set the stage for the emergence of fan communities and show how fans participated in and had an impact on broader cultural change.”

Sometimes, fannish metadiscussions trace these changes in detail — I’ve read and even been part of many fascinating and inspiring discussions about how fans, in grappling and rewriting our canons, can advance agendas of social change.

And so, Rubenstein and Reagin point out, “Historians are interested in the ways that communities develop over time. We study individuals’ struggles for survival and their efforts at making more interesting, exciting, or satisfying lives for themselves, because we understand that these efforts can add up to or reflect transformative changes in the world. ”

Their introductory editorial briefly discusses things like the impact of copyright law, mass media, professional sports and the cultural appropriation that happens in a century like the 19th, which was full of immigration and global migrations.

And they urge researchers and fan scholars to look beyond the 20th century and especially the focus on internet fandom: “This sometimes narrow focus has led scholars to ignore well-organized fan communities that indeed contested cultural authority, especially if these originated outside of the United States and Western Europe.”

So in the end, what might we learn from a birds-eye view of fandom? “We’re confident that this [historical type of] work will offer fans a broader context for their own communities and can demonstrate that fan communities have always contributed to cultural and social change. Participatory culture is, in fact, a deeply rooted phenomenon—more than today’s fans might realize—and historically grounded research can uncover how fans’ participation helped shape the world we live in.”

[META] A fan fiction controversy: More questions than answers

Within the last year, scholar Catherine Coker and writer Jim Hines both looked into the legendary controversy surrounding the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, her uncompleted Darkover novel “Contraband”, fan writer Jean Lamb, and her Darkover-verse fan novella “Masks.”

Hines and Coker report that for most of her long and prolific career, Bradley was well known for her encouragement of and interaction with fan fiction authors, until her confrontation with Lamb ended that practice in 1992. (Bradley died in 1999.)

I had heard about this controversy for years, and eagerly read about it wherever I found it mentioned, but I confess I’m still left with more questions than answers. Might be the journalist in me!

Coker interviewed Lamb and Lamb’s former beta reader (fan editor), Nina Boal, and wrote about her findings in an article for the latest issue of “Transformative Works and Cultures.”

Hines researched the controversy and wrote about his findings in his blog and mirrored the post at his Livejournal in May 2010. (The blog post garnered 23 comments; the LJ post 157, for whatever that’s worth.)

I can do no better for conciseness here than to quote Hines’ conclusions after his interviews and research:

“As far as I can tell, the following is not disputed.
1. Bradley originally encouraged fanfiction.
2. Bradley read Jean Lamb’s story “Masks” in Moon Phases [a fan zine].
3. Bradley contacted Lamb, offering payment and a dedication in exchange for rights to use the ideas from “Masks” in the Darkover novel “Contraband.”
4. Bradley and Lamb were unable to reach an agreement, and “Contraband” was cancelled.
5. Bradley changed her policy on fanfiction, stating that she would no longer allow it.”

In his post, Hines asked the same questions I want answered, questions that in my opinion the Coker article does not answer, one of which is: Why exactly was “Contraband” cancelled, and by whom? Hines says that DAW, the publisher, did not cancel it. Coker apparently did not try to get a statement from DAW, which is a big gap in her information-gathering.

Coker did not interview writer Mercedes Lackey, either, though Coker states that before her death, Bradley gave the unpublished notes for “Contraband” to Lackey.

Hines, on the other hand, links to a comment Lackey made in a discussion hosted at the SFF blog “Making Light” back in 2006. In this comment, Lackey states that Bradley “liked the ‘take’ a particular fan author had on the situations and asked to use that spin on things for her book in return for the usual acknowlegement in the front of the book. She had done this before with other fan authors (even though she didn’t have to, after all, you can’t “own” an idea). However in this case, the next party heard from was the author’s agent, who demanded cover credit and co-authorship, or there would be a lawsuit.”

Hines, like Coker, quotes Boals.

Neither Hines’ post nor Coker’s article quotes anyone from Bradley’s estate.

Another problematic element of Coker’s article was the quotes she chose to include from fans who responded to the controversy in the nineties on newsgroup threads. They seem to be stating their own opinions or impressions of the controversy, but as they are using fannish pseudonyms and are not otherwise identified as being directly involved, it’s hard to understand why they were included at all in Coker’s article, and impossible to evaluate their credibility. I found myself, as a journalist, questioning why Coker allowed them space in her article.

Personally, I would love to hear from Lackey in more detail, because she could apparently document how much of “Masks” was actually going to be in “Contraband” as Bradley envisioned it at the time “Contraband” was cancelled.

I’d also like to hear more concrete information from DAW, and from Bradley’s estate. It seems to me that the facts regarding what Lamb actually asked for and the substance of her threat to sue are documentable at this point, but neither article has complete information about that. Coker in particular talks her way all around this very important point, going so far as to include hearsay.

Coker concludes her article by talking about how the incident has been “spun” in fandom, which to me is much less important than the facts of what happened.

Hines concludes by talking about what pro writers can learn from this incident in regard to interacting with fan writers and reading fan fiction.

I think it’s important to remember that Bradley harmoniously interacted with fan writers for more than 20 years before “Masks” and “Contraband”. But it seems to me simply a wise choice for pro writers to adopt a policy of benign neglect toward whatever fan fiction is created for their canons.

[META] Fanlore wants you

By Rachel Barenblat

Fanlore is a wiki for, about, and by fans. Our aim is to preserve the many-threaded history of fandom. Here’s how we describe ourselves:

Fanlore is a multi-authored website that any fan can easily contribute to. We want to record both the history and current state of our fan communities – fan works, fan activities, fan terminology, individual fans and fannish-related events. Because Fanlore is based on wiki software, you may edit pages to contribute your own experience, knowledge, and perspective on your community’s activities, its members and histories, and the material it has produced. (Source: About Fanlore.)

We have a set of Guiding principles & aims which includes things like:

Fan communities – their practices, products and passions – both past and present, are worthy of both preservation and celebration.

Each fannish voice is valid and valuable; there is no single “truth” or history to fandom, but rather, each perspective contributes to & demonstrates a rich and diverse heritage.

We treasure the unique fannish style of scholarship: self-reflective, articulate, analytic, personal, passionate and tolerant, and also accessible to a diverse audience.

Fanlore operates on a Plural Point of View policy, which holds that all interpretations and experiences are of interest and deserve to be written down. Unlike Wikipedia, we’re not looking for a mythical neutral point of view; we’d rather have a many-voiced spectrum of opinion.

Fanlore aims to create a historical record of fandom. If something is part of your fannish experience, and if it’s important to you, then we want to hear about it — whether it’s on a subject which is already well-covered (Stargate Atlantis’ John Sheppard, e.g.) or something which doesn’t yet have its own page or isn’t yet mentioned at all.

Fanlore is stewarded by the wiki committee, a group of wiki gardeners (wiki users who keep a careful eye on the wiki and help fix typos and wiki code formatting as a gardener might gently prune or fertilize a garden), and a group of wiki administrators. Probably our biggest challenge is getting the word out to people who aren’t already intimately involved with the OTW’s projects. As of this writing, the wiki contains 14,549 articles written by 3,161 registered users — but we want more! In service of that goal, we host challenges on the Fanlore Dreamwidth community every two weeks, and we’re working on reaching out to those who aren’t yet contributing to the wiki in several ways…including this blog post, which is meant to be informational and also invitational. Basically: we want YOU!

Although the committee oversees the development of the wiki, the content in Fanlore comes from individuals who see a gap in coverage on a topic and are inspired to fill the gap themselves. In recent months, Fanlore editors have been hard at work on crafting 8000+ articles documenting print zines and doujinshi. One editor has been adding lots of filk information, while another has been developing the Merlin pages. And of course, many of those who edit Fanlore also enjoy reading what others have written. After the main page, the most popular pages are The Draco Trilogy, a page exploring incest in fannish sources and fannish creations, and pages about Merlin (BBC) and White Collar.

If you’re interested, check out the Portal which contains links to an Intro to Fanlore FAQ, tips for wiki editing, links to the Fanlore chatroom and Fanlore Dreamwidth community, and more. Join us in writing our history together.