Currently browsing tag

writing

[QUOTE] From Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

On a more doctrinal level, respecting creativity as a human force should lead us to think differently about fair use, among other things, by encouraging us to take account of noncommercial motivations even in contexts current doctrine sees as commercial. Joanna Russ, the feminist science fiction writer, suggested that the“what if” of slash fanfiction was “what if I were free?” What would I read, what would I write, what relationships would I have with the external world and with other people? Asking “what if I were free”is very different from the claim-staking of the rhetoric of opensource software, which focuses on the idea that open-source software is “free as in free speech, not as in free beer.” That common phrase has always struck me as hiding within it many unexamined and problematic assumptions about what free is with respect to speech and how it relates to a commercial marketplace. What free is with respect to women’s voices, of course, has been fiercely debated at least since John Stuart Mill (and his wife) wrote The Subjection of Women. Slash and other fanworks come from a background of constraint, where acting as if we were free to write our own versions is a different kind of act than using our already-extant freedom to create open-source software instead of proprietary code. Women as writers have rarely had the luxury of exclusive control to give away.

One aspect of that unfreedom has been an inability to participate in the money economy on the same terms as men. Fanworks represent an alternative outlet for creative energies.

Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions ift.tt/1dL4BAw

[QUOTE] From Jeanette Winterson (via austinkleon)

As a writer, you’re always something of a vandal. You’re a tomb raider. You’re gonna go in there and take the things that already exist – drag ‘em out again, and dress them up differently. There is a sense in which you are a thief. It’s no wonder that writers are ruled by Mercury, god of thieves and liars, and Mercury of the double tongue. There is the sense in which you will always steal, and take for yourself, the things that you need. But then you also bring them back into the light. You dust them down, and then you put them out again for people to find in a different way. The whole thing about myths is that they need to stay fluid, they need to keep moving, and they need to be dynamic. And that’s why we can go on retelling them, so that, what is valuable is passed on from generation to generation, across time, through cultures.

Jeanette Winterson (via austinkleon, reblogged from vinvalenwind)

[QUOTE] From Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

And because fanworks in their inception are based on the original, the ability to have more and more without erasing the original structures the entire enterprise. One popular fan story form is known as “Five Things That Never Happened.” A “Five Things” story is fanwork that sets forth five alternate realities, each usually incompatible with one another.

Crosspost: fanhackers.tumblr.com/post/41516132207/and-because-fanworks-in-their-inception-are-based

[LINK] Embedded Videos at TWC: Such Fun!

The new issue of Transformative Works and Cultures almost here, and I can’t wait to check out the content on transformative works and fan activism. It’s such an important topic, and one that’s bound to generate some energy from readers moved by direct action. However, while we wait for June 15th, I thought I’d share how valuable I’ve found the Fan/Remix Video issue, and how much I want to encourage readers to check it out. In fact, I can’t imagine a better place to start for a reader who’s new to academic writing than the editorial introduction to the issue, by Julie Levin Russo and Francesca Coppa, which, above all, showcases the pleasures of incorporating embedded video and images into academic writing. I’d recommend that any skeptical reader start by watching one of the videos that first draws her attention, and then locate what else on the page might contextualize that experience. The issue is really an art museum. At an art museum, one quickly realizes that he can’t read every description of every piece and experience them all as well, at least not within the short time he’s got to spend there. Personally, I always prefer to follow my instincts and find what moves me, even if it means I end up confused about whether the one with all the dark shadows was supposed to be about religion or not. I’m much more comfortable revealing this non-linear preference now than I would have been when I started graduate school in 2006. What changed me was teaching, and specifically, teaching in classrooms with excellent technological capabilities, which have enabled me to incorporate streaming video into almost every class I have taught. Streaming video has undoubtedly been the most helpful pedagogical aid I have found over the past five years. I started teaching in 2007, and the first thing I learned as I got to know my students was that it’s important to present information in as many different ways as possible. Everybody learns differently, and, while some do respond strongly to written texts, a lot of people do not. I had thought of my writing class as “an English class,” which, like the English classes I’d taken in college, would consist mostly of reading (literary) texts, analyzing them, and then writing papers about them. I had never really thought to question what a paper was, because it seemed to me that it was “between four and five pages,” primarily. Although my private approach to art, literature, and, of course, online fandom, was one of searching, skimming, and skipping, I’d been in school long enough to understand that my writing should disguise this fact. When I wrote about a quotation from a novel, for example, I should not reveal that I was drawn to it because it revealed the author’s secret attitude toward women, or that I had found it because I’d been looking for a new quotation for my AOL Instant Messenger profile. Instead, I was expected to claim that the quotation was clearly central to the novel, and that it would reveal itself as such to any careful reader. When I transitioned from student to teacher, I realized that I would have to find a way to explain to my students what was expected of them, in terms of reading and writing, without being hypocritical. So at first, I assigned text after text. A poem about the experience of being away from home, that’ll strike a universal chord! It did not, at least not universally. An essay about learning curves, which will inspire self-reflection on learning styles. Yes! No. The texts did inspire discussion, of course. Students are kind-hearted people who take pity on their graduate student teachers, and also, a good portion of them have the background and natural curiosity in the humanities to succeed in most contexts. But I could tell that some students simply did not feel spoken to by the material, and I knew that it was not simply a lack of interest in academic success on their part. I needed to introduce something new, and fortunately, because this was 2007, and I had a computer in my classroom, I settled on YouTube. After all, the way I bonded with my friends much of the time was by sharing a 3-5 minute video about an issue that moved us, and then discussing it, or responding with a video on a related topic. Why not try to bring that dynamic to the classroom? To be clear, I’m writing this under the assumption that the practice is much more common in composition and other kinds of classrooms now, so don’t take my rhetorical questions as though they represent actual expert advice. For that, see Table 1 in Russo and Coppa’s article, which offers a selective overview of whole university courses devoted to remix and related practices. These courses undoubtedly represent a much more sophisticated approach to teaching with digital media, as compared with my “have you guys heard about this?” approach. Even so, I maintain that there was value to my approach even when it was best described under the latter category, before I understood how important it was to keep my desire to tell people about everything interesting, contained. And that is how simple my argument in this post is. The Fan/Remix Video issue of TWC is simply inviting in a way that not every issue of an academic journal proves to be. There are much worse ways to spend an afternoon than watching every video discussed in Elisa Kreisinger’s piece, “Queer video remix and LGBTQ online communities.” I’d be amazed if anyone did this and was not moved to read the author’s notes and analysis, because these videos demand further engagement, and the article acts as an instant interlocutor. Web video, especially remix video, is as powerful for many of us as poetry is for, well, fewer of us, and this issue offers a great array of examples and reasons why. I take Andrea Horbinski’s intervention into the issue’s place within fan studies seriously, and I think that, for those of us who are committed to the central issues she raises, her post should be required reading. At the same time, I think that, for a reader wondering what academic writing might look like if it spoke about her life on the internet in the 21st Century, she might be pleasantly taken in by it. Since 2007, my goal in teaching has changed from “give them the same things I was given, because then they will follow the same path of inspiration” to “give them as much good stuff as possible, in as many different ways as possible, in hopes that something excites their intellect or desire.” Similarly, my take on this issue is, “I’d never seen that one before! People are amazing.”

[META] What I Write About When I Don’t Want to be Writing

I am behind on a blog post–this blog post, in point of fact. Being behind is nothing new for me; it’s a consequence, in part, of my chronic habit of taking on too many obligations while trying my darndest to also have that thing we are pleased to call, nebulously but certainly, “a life.”

I’ve been pondering that thing called a “work/life balance” and its role in my program and career, particularly as, this summer, I will be embarking on a significant research project focusing on fandom as part of a team headed by Prof. Abigail de Kosnik. Like my friend Prof. Sandra Annett, whose recent post on the subject got me thinking about this, I’ve found that my reading and relaxation habits have changed as I’ve shifted my academic focus more to anime and manga and as my work with the Organization for Transformative Works (I’m a committee chair for the 2012 term) has come to take up more of my attention. I watch much less anime; even as I’ve gotten better and quicker at reading manga, having to sit down with a dictionary at my elbow feels a lot like work. I daydream less about writing fiction, fannish or original, than I do about making vids. True luxury seems to be lying on the couch with a work of fiction, and I read way more manga in translation and English language comics than I ever did before.

Prof. de Kosnik recently remarked to me that in her experience, of any three things you’re fannish about, you can definitely teach classes about two of them in your academic life. I think, though, that as much as I like history, and came to it via my deep interest in narrative, which I think underlies all of my interests to some extent, I don’t really want to think of myself as “fannish” about history. Moving the focus of my professional life over to the “fandom” side of the line seems to me to be courting burnout, which, given my aforementioned tendency to do too many things at once anyway, I also want to avoid.

I suspect this is something every acafan has to negotiate for herself, but for me, I do know that as much as I like writing about fandom, and as much as I believe that it’s important for fans who are academic to write about fandom to the rest of the academy, in the end there’s a degree to which I don’t want to take that analytical step back about every aspect of my fannish life. At some point I just want to do fandom; I want fandom to continue to be a place that, for me, isn’t dominated or constrained by my academic concerns or habits of thought (even as, being a whole person, I do bring those academic habits of thought, certainly, to my fannish activities).

As usual, I don’t know that I have a larger point tying these thoughts together. I’m really excited to participate in Prof. de Kosnik’s research project (about which much more will be said anon; we’re currently waiting for final IRB approval). I’m really excited to start doing research that will have a genuine place in my dissertation project this summer. I’m excited to have a little more free time to, hopefully, read and watch and vid things, anime and manga and cartoons and novels. I’m excited to talk about fandom with some of my good friends on several panels at Wiscon 36 next weekend. But as much as I do believe that fandom is a way of life, and as much as fandom has had a hugely positive impact on my life, it can’t be everything. It isn’t necessary or good for everything I do to be something I’m fannish about, and that’s okay.

[META] Promising Monsters: Mutated Text 2012

I had the pleasure of participating in the Mutated Text workshop, celebrating “informal informalities, strange writing, and eclectic ties,” yesterday at Berkeley. As usual, going as a historian to anything even vaguely non-traditional — even as a historian whose heart is firmly in the nontraditional — and going as a fan to anything academic is always a bit of a dissonant experience for me, but my fellow participants were an eclectic bunch of brilliant people who instantly put me at ease, at least as an academic uncomfortable with, in the words of co-convener Martha Kenney, how the norms of academic writing “force self-severing and ignore our personal entanglements with our research.”

As I’ve learned just since my last post, part of the constraints I sometimes feel in academic writing are assuredly unique to my chosen discipline, and perhaps even to my own subfield — certainly my colleagues in Chinese history express a positive paranoia about using the “I” in text that, thankfully, my department head (a professor of premodern Japan) has never felt. English and critical theory, a friend of mine assured me after last time (“I agree with your general argument but I disagree with you on every particular!”), are perfectly comfortable with the personal interpolating into the scholarly. More power to you, my friends!

Part of what we talked about at the workshop yesterday, however — and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a practicing feminist sff writer (Naamen Tilahun, in this case) try to explain the concept of “meta” to a roomful of academics and casual genre readers — put me in the mind of Alex Jenkins’ last post, and her thoughts on the place of love for one’s work, and enthusiasm, in work. I commiserated with enough people at the workshop to know that the constraints people feel in academic work are real enough, even as we see more and more academic works that, as Mel Chen put it later in the day, “resist those constraints.”

Possibly even more than on the question of enthusiasm and being personal, however, I left convinced that one vital feature of fandom, and part of why, as Alex Jenkins argues, it is such an important alternative sphere of pop culture criticism and enjoyment, is that fandom is much more process-oriented than academia may ever be. From the question of works in progress [WIPs] to vidders trading tips and gripes about software and vidding workflow, fandom offers an extraordinarily transparent view on the way the creative process works. I mean “creative” here in its broadest sense, because anyone who doesn’t think that scholarly writing is creative has clearly never cudgeled their brains to pull out the better sentence, thesis, structure, conclusion that you just know is in there somewhere, if you could only find it. Whereas academics frequently feel alienated from each other while working (especially, I daresay, during that dreaded period of time in which one writes a dissertation), fandom has a lot of mechanisms to make people feel that they’re not alone — indeed, I think part of why we as fans love fandom is that it shows us that we’re not alone in our improper informalities and eclectic enthusiasms. Even if no one else has ever heard of your tiny fandom, just about everyone can understand your undying love for it.

I think the other thing is that fandom is also much better at tolerating failure. Your WIP may break off mid-chapter, and people will still read and even recommend it. Your vid or your AMV may not be all that it was in your head, but people will watch it and love it anyway. Dead ends and loops and wandering pathways are a part of what it’s about — iteration and reiteration and obsessive reworking and rereading of trope, character, plot elements. We as fans eat it up with a spoon, whereas as scholars we’re supposed to get it right, right out of the gate, every time.

Co-organizer Margaret Rhee, in her opening remarks, expressed the hope that the workshop could offer participants a supportive space for experimental writing, and it certainly did that; for that alone, to know that I’m the only one who’s willing to follow her passion where it leads, both in terms of form as much as of content, Mutated Text was awesome. And it’s that aspect of fandom, ultimately, that the academy could most stand to emulate.

[META] Writing Sandcastles Versus Playing in Sandboxes: The Writing Life in the Twenty-First Century

Rich Juzwiak recently announced on Gawker that he will no longer write recaps of currently-airing television shows. He will continue to write about television, of course, but he will never again be “a recapping machine,” because it is “thankless work” that leads inevitably to fatigue. To illustrate, he cites the fact that recapper extraordinaire Tracie Potochnik has written over 1,350,000 words about America’s Next Top Model. In another place and time, this word count could constitute multiple novels (War and Peace *2), but in the blogosphere, all is lost to the accelerated time scale of popular culture. Because they were funneled through the recap machine, her words, in Juzwiak’s view, lost value as quickly as they acquired it, thus depriving the writer of time for creative development, as well as the audience from engaging, long-form thoughts about the show. Juzwiak suffered similarly from his years of recapping, and, although he concedes that recaps helped him to build his audience, he laments that he expended so much energy and stress-inducing, time-sensitive labor on this ultimately ephemeral genre of writing.

I have a lot of sympathy (at least in comparison to some of the harsher commenters) for Juzwiak’s perspective, but I think that his disappointment offers an opportunity to explore and celebrate why fandom sustains such an important alternative sphere of popular culture criticism, including the transformational as an essential complement to the affirmational. That energy to transform is, as far as I can tell, exactly what Juzwiak is longing for when he laments that recaps are rarely crafted to the point where they can sustain their value for more than the sad few hours in which viewers will hungrily be seeking them out. I read his complaint that Potochnik could have written War and Peace twice over in the words it took her to recap ANTM as a genuine desire for writing to take form and communicate something deeper than sharp observations and topical humor. Writing can mean, and not only when it’s written by Nineteenth-Century Russian men, and, as Juzwiak himself makes clear, not only when it is a novel. He notes that there is high quality long-form television writing, for example, but that recaps, even while experimental and enjoyable, are unlikely to contribute to its flourishing.

So why not just seek out good long-form television writing? For me, it’s because the War and Peace comparison betrays transformational desires, and so, I think it’s worth taking a look at the writing landscape of transformational media fandom, in order to see if its participants offer a way out of Juzwiak’s resentment at his years spent on “sandcastles.” At the beginning of last month, lunabee34 posted a thoughtful essay on her feelings of fatigue in fandom, entitled “Fannish Trajectories: Isolation, a Sense of Disconnection from Fandom, and How We Deal.” Her piece, like Juzwiak’s, speaks of her declining energy to produce a certain kind of writing (here, fanworks) at the pace she once did. Already in the titles, though, a clear difference in focus emerges between the two authors. The Juzwiak piece, “Tune In, Recap, Drop Out: Why I’ll Never Recap a TV Show Again,” focuses on an individual “I,” and makes a claim for “never.” In “Fannish Trajectories,” however, the focus is on “we,” we who also sometimes lose steam for articulating our every thought on our favorite television shows, but we who experience this loss as temporary and social, more than we do as evidence that our mode of participation has failed us. (I should make clear that I identify strongly with the “we” of lunabee34′s piece, although it’s just as likely that any given fan will not.)

Juzwiak’s claim gains strength from its definitive refusal: Recaps are not a shortcut to serious engagement with popular culture. lunabee34′s claim gains strength rather from its openness to the many different possibilities of engagement with fandom over time. The reality is that, as RL responsibilities take away from the free time required to participate actively in transformational media fandom, one must set individual boundaries in order to maximize one’s time with her fan community. Both Juzwiak and lunabee34 rely on writing IRL. Juzwiak is a professional blogger, and lunabee34 is an English professor. Both write in a variety of genres on what I assume is a daily basis, and therefore, there’s much the two share in their descriptions of writerly fatigue. Writing recaps for a show can get old. Writing conference papers can get old. One of my favorite aspects of the blogosphere and the LJ/DW fandom sphere is the way in which they provide space for reflection on the writing life, both when it’s a narrative of fatigue that leads to a drop-off in a certain kind of production, and when it’s a celebration of inspiration, the kind that leads to War and Peace-length fanfic. (Confession: I have never read a War and Peace-length work of fanfiction.)

But there is a difference, and it’s important. One of the major problems with recaps is that they guarantee page views, which, in the world of for-proft blogging, constitute the difference between profitable and not. In fandom, we have the privilege of saying no to an episode, a show after it kills off the character we were watching for anyway, even a whole medium. We can switch entirely from television to comics without leaving fandom. We can switch from writing drabbles to writing multi-media analyses of individual episodes of television shows from the 1970s. Sure, entertaining and beloved writers will always be burdened by requests for more, but in fandom, they are welcome to change their tune at any moment. It’s simple but true that the machine-like quality that Juzwiak describes as being acquired by the recapper is more threatening in professional writing than in fandom. It doesn’t mean that fandom is low stakes, of course. Every day, people are writing their novels, and many of them, the most talented and serious, inhabiting the most-beloved sourcetexts, can be confident that they will have readers both right away and in the future. But even if they don’t, they knew what they were getting into when they added the “for fun” disclaimer at the top of the page. “Fun” is a broad enough term to account for the incredible range of pleasures fanworks can offer us, but it keeps them free from the thing that will undoubtedly make them not fun at some point — money.

[META] Fannish Moments in the Poetry Classroom

Regular co-blogger Lisa Schmidt has posted two excellent reflections on teaching and fandom, and I thought that today might be the day to share some of my own. The course I taught this quarter was Introduction to Poetry, which sounds much more conventional and less potentially fan-friendly than Lisa’s Media and Society course, or, say, a course in the History of Audiences, or Transmedia Storytelling. But in fact, I find that I can relate better to her experiences this quarter than I was able to while teaching Reading Popular Culture. I have my suspicions about why this is so, and I hope that my reflections will be of interest to anyone who, like me, sees themselves not only at the intersection of academia and fandom, but also at the intersection of literary studies and media studies.

I tried to introduce fandom into my Reading Popular Culture course in several ways. The first time I taught it, I assigned Kim Deitch’s graphic novel, Alias the Cat!, which tells the story of the evolution of the mass media in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century in the United States from the perspective of a hardcore collector. I introduced students to Lostpedia. I assigned blog reviews of Dollhouse episodes alongside academic articles in order to start a conversation about the investments of different kinds of media critics. I got my point across, more often than not, but I was rarely able to feel a fannish energy in my classroom, outside of a few post-class one-on-one interactions. This experience is normal, as commenters on Lisa’s first post suggested, but it’s not satisfying. There was part of me that felt like I was giving away too much for too little reward — part of me that was disappointed that students who came in unimpressed by Twenty-First-Century storytelling left feeling the same, rather than having been called to critical practices that would help them find their rightful place within a more democratic interpretive landscape, one defined by fan practices.

I’m sure that those readers who are teachers can easily recognize what I’m describing as the standard utopianism of the newish instructor, but fortunately, I’ve finally started to find what I’d been looking for. In order to excite fannish energy, it turns out, one must alter a portion of the work of the course into creative production. Lisa describes in her first post the experience of showing an episode of fan favorite Supernatural, and then later, a Supernatural fanvid, but she remained disappointed until she asked students to create a fanwork for their final project. It doesn’t even have to be anything as significant as a final project, as I’ve learned this quarter, and it doesn’t have to be a fanwork. In Introduction to Poetry, I simply gave students the opportunity to write an imitative exercise once during the quarter, which would be worth 5% of their grade. Initially, I created this assignment because I thought that students who didn’t already love poetry might get into it more if they experienced the challenge of writing for themselves. And indeed, a complex form like a sestina or villanelle almost demands to be imitated — I even remember writing a (very bad) sonnet almost automatically in high school, because it seemed like the only logical way to take notes on Shakespeare. I even thought that students whose talents were in quantitative fields might be impressed by the mathematical demands of rhythm, and then produce poetry in spite of whatever shame is associated with articulating one’s feelings in verse.

However, while a few did take on these pseudo-mathematical tasks, more took on the task of writing in a famous poet’s voice, or drawing from their tactics, especially found poetry. Those who wrote in the voice of a poet revealed to me a depth of critical engagement I might have completely missed out on, had I tried to extrapolate it from their descriptive claims. Those who, inspired by Alice Walker and Hart Seely’s found poetry, proceeded to “find” their own poetry in documents addressed to them, inspired me to think about incorporating a found poetry assignment into any future writing course I teach, because I was so impressed by their clear senses of humor and subtlety. Part of what I’m describing is my own journey from being a lover of essayistic critique and meta first and foremost, and only then the fiction and art that share the same source material, into a more broad-minded thinker and fan. It would, of course, be inappropriate for me to convert an Introduction to Poetry course, whose major goal is to instruct students in tactics for reading poetry, into a creative writing course inadvertently. I am not qualified to teach creative writing courses, and there are plenty of people who are. However, I have been thoroughly convinced that at least part of what I’ve been looking for, in terms of inviting students into an exciting, multi-faceted contemporary reading landscape, can be attended to via targeted imitative exercises.

I’ve heard more and more about literature professors assigning fanfic or fanfic-like work to college students, although perhaps less often than I hear about media studies professors and Digital Composition specialists assigning remix projects that lend themselves to a comparison with fanvids. I think that it’s an exciting development, because, while it turns out that it’s difficult to impress people by just insisting that there is fandom, and it is intellectual and awesome (which it is!), it is easy to excite a certain fannish energy by inviting students to participate in creative tasks that reward their skill at capturing voices and filling gaps, without requiring the accompanying expository justification.

I’m very jealous of people who teach courses on fandom in which both come together somehow — courses in which there is time enough to explore the history and culture of fandom, as well as incorporate fannish critical and creative practices. But until I am given the opportunity to teach such a course, I will happily incorporate assignments that give students, as well as me, the instructor, a glimpse of the reading community that is made momentarily visible by an archive of creative responses to literature, enabled by the course website. It can even make grading momentarily feel like checking out a trusted friend’s latest fanwork recommendations.

[META] Living in a Den of Thieves (Notes Towards a Post on Big Content)

Two weeks ago, in the wake of the hacker collective Anonymous shutting down U.S. government and Big Content websites in avowed revenge for the U.S. Attorney General’s taking down the upload service MegaUpload, I asked my Twitter followers (only half in jest) whether I would one day be writing an article about the Internet War of 2012. The consensus was “Quite possibly!” but even a cursory glance over the last two weeks or so of events around the Internet and the public domain reveal that the conflict between those who are advocating for more open laws and formats around content, and those who want to lock content down and throw away the key on “pirates,” is about more than one upload service, or even more than one frighteningly broad piece of “anti-online piracy” legislation (and no, that link isn’t talking about SOPA/PIPA).

Fandom intersects with all of these events in a number of large and complex ways, and as a global phenomenon, it’s no surprise that fans in different parts of the world have had different reactions to various recent developments. Just among my digital acquaintances, reactions to MegaUpload, for instance, have ranged from the general sentiment that its operators’ alleged violations were so flagrant that they deserved to be indicted, to noting the detrimental effect the demise of file-sharing sites has on emerging economies in particular, since people working in emerging economies literally cannot afford to legitimately buy the media that Big Content sells.

The rise of “intellectual property” rights over the past century or so is part and parcel of the neoliberalization first of so-called advanced industrial societies, and then the rest of the world; the shredding of social safety nets globally; the commercialization of scholarship and the reduction of the value of all knowledge to the price it is projected to fetch in the so-called “free market”; the patent-ization of scientific research part and parcel with increased corporate profiteering therefrom. IPR are used systematically to disenfranchise and disempower vulnerable groups at all levels of societies globally, and then, the disenfranchisement complete, to sell that content back to those groups at immense profit–but only at fair market price, of course.

As a historian, I’m painfully aware that today’s current, very stringent global intellectual property regime is very much a recent and contingent phenomenon, and as a classicist and a fan, I was particularly dismayed to see the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of copyright maximalists in Golan v. Holder, finding that works could be legally re-copyrighted and removed from the public domain. It would be foolish, as a historian, to claim that fandom predates the age of mechanical reproduction and the rise of seriality in storytelling, but one doesn’t have to be much of a literature scholar to see that creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that creative works have always been inspired by one another. If Vergil had had to pay money to Homer’s estate to use characters from The Illiad, there probably would have been no Aeneid, and that loss wouldn’t just have diminished ancient Greek and Latin poetry.

I mentioned my work for the Organization for Transformative Works to a mutual acquaintance (the business manager of a well-known fantasy author) recently, and it was almost comical how my interlocutor’s defenses rose the instant I uttered the words “fair use.” I understand, and absolutely support, the desire and right of creators to make money from their own creative works, but one of the things that I think tends to get lost in these discussions is the fact that overall creators aren’t being very well served by Big Content. In the first place it’s a myth, as someone on my Twitter feed observed, that content is only created by “professionals”; and in the second place, Big Content is not in the business of giving creators money: as an industry, it’s in the business of making money for itself. Advocates for SOPA/PIPA and ACTA like to position themselves as defending the rights of creators, but the current intellectual property regime is set up to favor corporations. Furthermore, the global scope of that regime, and the way in which restrictive additions in one part of the world tend to be taken up by the rest of its participants (Golan v. Holder was held up as an instance of bringing U.S. law into line with global practice, and actions in the MegaUpload case were taken as far away from the States as Hong Kong and New Zealand) only increase the margin of that favorability.

Fandom, to try to knit the two halves of this post into a coherent union, is very much somewhere in the vast creative territory between outright plagiarism–which no one, I think, would support or condone–and the avowed creative debt of explicit borrowing and that position has only become more difficult to maintain in recent years. The OTW’s work to extend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemption for vidding that we won in 2010 is an excellent example of how difficult it is to carve out a legal space for fair use fan practices even under current law (I invite you to sign the petition to uphold the right to create remix videos before February 10, 2012, cosponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation). I’m proud of the OTW’s past and continuing work in this area, but the events of the past fortnight are more than sufficient proof that the battlefield is anything but stagnant, and vigilance remains the price of the very limited liberties we now possess.

[META] I Am Acafan, Here Me Roar?

“I”, meaning whom?

I am Lisa Schmidt, writer, thinker, debtor, and life traveller, and this is my introductory post.   I’m very pleased to be joining the Organization for Transformative Works, truly.  I am one of those academic types who was a fan first, always and forever a fan.  I was a fan — for a very long time! — before I knew there were other people like me, people who shaped themselves into groups and found ways to communally refine their gorgeous obsessions.  Some of us even thought to harness our emotional and intellectual energies and fashion them into a career — thus was born acafan.

So, I think it important to begin with a sort of fannish curriculum vitae.  As with any C.V., one picks and chooses a little, lining up the major entries for maximum effect.  In other words, this is only a partial list.  It goes:  Star Wars, Remington Steele/Pierce Brosnan, Johnny Depp, Star Trek: TNG, Star Trek: Voyager, The Sentinel, LOTR, OMG LOTR!, Everything-Associated-With-Elijah, Supernatural, Stargate Atlantis, did I mention Supernatural/Dean Winchester/Jensen Ackles? In between and during all of these, I’ve had my various obsessions with films, books, shows, topics and personages ranging from T.E. Lawrence to Kate Bush to the Dragonlance novels.  I don’t just like Bette Davis; I WORSHIP her.  I think that Joss Whedon is a true genius and if I could I would throw myself at his feet and ask him to hire me.  I think that Bjork is a GODDESS.  I don’t how to NOT be a fan.

I have to say this because it such a huge part of the picture:  I love fanfiction.  I love it as an academic and as a human being and as a reader of fanfiction and — oh, yeah, as a writer.  I’ve been a writer my whole life.  I have boxes of unfinished fantasy novels, most of them written in my teens.  They shall probably never see the light of day, and that is just as well.  The point is, my blogging may skew towards fanfiction, particularly slash.  To me, fanfiction is a particular formation of a very basic sort of human creativity, an activity that pre-dates the Internet and electronic media and even the novel.  It is not something that supposedly uncreative people do because they don’t know how to do REAL writing…. but I digress.

So as I was saying, I am Lisa, and I am a fan.  I am also an academic.  As I write this, I am sitting in my apartment in Sherbrooke, Quebec, home of Bishop’s University.  I just finished teaching one course (Hitchcock) and will begin two more next week (Media and Society, Sex and Gender, whee!).  I did my Ph.D. at the University of  Texas at Austin, which means that you may hear me rant about the weather in Texas, or American politics, or grad school, or all of the above, at some point.  But I am a Canadian girl, born and bred. I went to McGill and the University of Toronto.  I like to think that being Canadian makes me cool, but I’ve never really been cool, to tell the truth.

Because I am an academic, I can’t bear the thought that anyone might have read the title to this post and said “Hmm, can’t she SPELL?”  I can spell, I promise you.  I thought I would try for a clever sort of double meaning with “HERE”, as in this blog.  In this blog, I will roar.  Why ROAR?  Because I am a fan.  I think I’m pretty darned rational most of the time, but I can get very passionate about certain subjects (Hello?  Fan here).  And on the subject of fandom, I do feel like roaring sometimes.

Of course, being Canadian, I try to remain polite even as I roar.

[META] I am Mary Sue! Pheer me!

The most recent issue of “Transformative Works and Cultures” featured a fascinating interview with Paula Smith, the fan writer and editor who coined the term “Mary Sue” in 1973. Anyone who writes fan fiction that includes original characters in any form runs into this term sooner or later. And probably all fan fiction writers spend way too much time worrying if their original female characters are somehow slipping perilously toward this stereotype! Mary Sue’s are female characters in fan fiction who, Smith says, are “wish-fulfillment characters whose presence in any universe warps it way the heck out of reality. But we don’t notice that when it involves men.” These characters are way too perfect, take over the story inappropriately, and are often author-insertion characters. Smith says: “A story demands headspace, and the Mary Sue wants to come and occupy your whole head, so the writer gets the enjoyment and not the reader.” Cynthia Walker interviewed Smith, and asked many fantastic questions. One that leaped out to me was their elaboration of why fandom and its source materials tolerate male wish-fulfilment and self-insertion characters way more readily than female characters of the same type. “Q: Why, then, do Superman and James Bond succeed, while we tend to pull back from the female version? “PS: Because the world we live in is not just a patriarchy; it’s a puerarchy—what gets focused on in the culture is defined by boys and young men. Psychologically, there’s a turning point in men’s lives. There’s a point where they need to break away from women in their youth, and then later they come back to women as grown men, but many men never make it, never quite come back to a world that includes women as human beings.” I love how smartly and briefly Smith put that! Besides the very clear-eyed and historical look at Mary Sue and Gary Stu, in fan fiction and in our source material, the interview is a wonderful tour of the early years of Star Trek fandom and media fandom generally. That’s one of the chief things I love about this journal — its attention to our fannish history. So much to learn, and so much to be proud of here!

[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.

[META] Accent Memes, Brit-picking, and Other Perpetually Fascinating Phenomena of Internet Linguistics

Let me get this out of the way right now: I once lived in fear of Anglophilia. This fear has had serious consequences, such as, for example, preventing me from reading the Harry Potter books, and, until a few years ago, watching Buffy (which I knew contained prominent British characters played by American actors, inspiring what I feared would be an awkwardly Anglophilic fanbase). My parents are British, you see, but I have lived my entire life in the United States, and therefore have a solidly USAmerican accent, Central Pennsylvanian to be specific. Starting in early childhood, I experienced the social world of strangers as one utterly fascinated by my parents’ accents, and one saddened by my lack of the same. And so, early on, I developed my Linguistics 101 talking points about the connections between accent, affect, perceived credibility, and social class. Aside from the Linguistics 101 situation, I’ve found that these talking points become relevant in two other situations in which I commonly find myself: when I am meeting new colleagues, for example, a new cohort of graduate students in my program, or when an accent meme goes around among a newly-coalescing group of internet friends. The former situation is not relevant here, but I think the latter one is, if only because it offers a way in to a discussion of internet intimacy, and how it connects to the language politics of fandom. I’ve been through three or four “rounds” of accent memes with various online social circles, and some interesting trends have emerged. Here, I’m talking about accent memes that specifically look for likely points of difference (say, the pronunciation of Mary/marry/merry) among English speakers, rather than, say, the dynamics of a wave of podficcing, which are less predictable depending on the variety of fans involved. Within accent memes proper, I’ve noticed that people seem to produce an attitude toward language that values authenticity and rare speech patterns in ways that would stretch the boundaries of etiquette in a different context. To be clear, I am as guilty as anyone else of this exoticizing impulse, particularly when it’s combined with the inevitable excitement of connecting a person’s textual presence with a new sensory element of their presence, their voice. But it does strike me as somehow strange that it’s so much more common to hear “oh, that accent is so cool” than it would be (I hope) to say “oh, that person’s face/name is so cool.” Certainly, when people post pictures of themselves, there’s an expected chorus of “you’re so cute!” but it feels somehow different. That “somehow” is what drew me to the study of linguistics in college. For a few key historical reasons, English speakers in the U.S. are incredibly confused about what one can and cannot say about language. The most important of these, I think, is the institutional equation of Standard Written/White English with “correct grammar,” and its inherent enforcement of the prescriptive approach to language patterns. Armed with an understanding of SWE versus the deviant, many English speakers in the U.S. create a strict division between the language of education and professional advancement on the one side, and the language of emotion, family, and home on the other. (Obviously I’m generalizing to a ridiculous degree here.) Within internet culture, this distinction can become even more deeply entrenched. Hardly the revitalization of communitarian culture some have proclaimed the internet to be, some spheres of internet culture create their hierarchies entirely based on language use, taking prescriptive mandates more seriously than many English teachers do. But this attention to detail is not without its own insights for social justice vis a vis judgements of linguistic competence. For example, to accompany the exoticization I’ve seen in accent memes, there’s a counter-phenomenon of the Brit-pick. Here the accuracy of non-British fic authors’ representations of British characters’ voices is put to the test by native speakers of particular varieties of British English. I find Brit-picking (and its cousins, such as Yank-wank, which term I’ll have to admit I’ve never seen used) fascinating, especially as it relates to accent meme authenticity. I assume that in the context of concrit, it’s actually quite helpful, but when, as an outside reader, I encounter a comment that says “no British person would say x,” I find it strange. I’m sure it’s true sometimes, but I can’t think of many statements I’d be confident in saying that no native speaker of American English could ever organically utter. I mean, I know I’ve come up with some pretty odd, non-idiomatic sentences while composing this very piece, but I don’t think any of them disqualifies me from my national identity. These issues are all separate, of course, and I’d like to do a post at some point on my perhaps naive confusion as to why so many actors are asked to play characters with dramatically different accents than their own. (Dollhouse offers something of an in-story explanation of this, but that’s a topic for another day.) I’d also like to think more about the space podfic creates for a discussion of the connection between the aesthetic and narrative effects of accents and accent mimicry, and how conversations surrounding podfic differ from the off-the-cuff accent meme responses. But for today, I hope I’ve raised some questions worth thinking further about, related to language and online fandom.

[META] Fandom as a “high context” culture

Stranded cheerfully at home in the snow this week, all university and public school classes cancelled all around me, and thus without my reference books, I’m writing this in brief and from memory, based on a topic that grew out of my Small Group Communication class. We use the Ingleberg and Wynn textbook, and one of the topics in the multiculturalism chapter is the idea of “high context” versus “low context” cultures. This is a useful concept for understanding fandom, and how mystifying it can be for outsiders. I continue to be delighted by the different models of communication and mass communication that I learned for my formal education in journalism, and how they often apply beautifully to fandom. “Low context” cultures, my textbook says the anthropologists tell us, rely on explicit, literal types of communication. They tend to value logical, linear thinking, denotation, and prefer to disregard subtexts, metaphor, and anything that gets in the way of “what you see is what you get.” “High context” cultures, on the other hand, always rely on more than the literal written or verbal words in order to convey the message. History, relationships, subtext, symbolism, connotation — all these things are not extra decoration that can be efficiently stripped away from the message. They are part of the message. I often have to start from scratch with the idea of the importance of “context” in these Small Group Communication classes — the idea that my sister can affectionately call me a bitch, but if a stranger on the street shouts that word at me, I will get angry. Many of my students have never thought about that in any great depth, but it’s pretty easy to understand, given a clear example. They can readily see that intention matters, timing and location matter. That meaning lies not just in the word “bitch,” but who says it, and when, and why. (Something that Dr. Laura apparently failed to learn along the way!) Fandom is an extremely “high context” culture. In fact, it can be almost incomprehensible to someone from outside, because it’s so thickly woven with inside jokes, references to past stories, past fandoms, fandoms next-door, past relationships. To ignore all that and focus only on literal, explicit, written messages is to miss a great deal. “High context” versus “low context” is not a binary, of course. It’s a continuum. But fandom is definitely on the “high” end of the scale. And I light on another binary — the idea of studying fan texts versus fan communities. The connection between them, of course, is context. You can’t fully understand one without the other. So that’s just a kind of a scrap from my “topics to post about” file — more to come later. We should be dug out by next week, but for the moment I’m hunkered down with my immediate family, the dvd’s, the snow shovels and the hoarded supply of hot cocoa, focusing on being a “closed system” and not an “open system,” which is, of course, also a fandom-related post for another day. Let it snow, and stay warm out there, you guys!

[META] TWC, style, and meaning

Thanks to the recent release of the 16th edition of the venerable Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), I redid the in-house style sheet for Transformative Works and Cultures, just in time for the production team to start work on the March issue. The style sheet is a document that outlines how information ought to appear so that it’s presented consistently across documents. It specifies such things as how references are styled, what heads look like, and how units of numbers are presented. TWC follows CMOS closely in virtually every respect.

A style does more than simply provide a template that permits many people to work on a single project and be confident of some degree of conformity. The style chosen makes a statement about the kind of information it presents. TWC uses author–year style (CMOS Documentation II), which marks us as falling under a media studies/social sciences rubric rather than a humanities rubric. The presentation of the year in text foregrounds the importance of timely work. Any scholar glancing casually at TWC can infer a lot just by noticing our citation style.

But choosing to style something a particular way can also make a political statement. As an example, take the styling of, for race, Black versus black, White versus white. Depending on context, the capitalized version can indicate anything from official US Census demographic categories to radical political leanings. If it’s capitalized, it’s got to be meaningful. (TWC follows CMOS, which likes down style: black, white.)

Politically speaking, in the small world of fan studies, one could argue that fanfic is used so commonly by fans themselves that TWC ought to style it like that. We don’t. We use fan fic because that is how it appears in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (MW; updated version available at MerriamWebster.com), which we follow slavishly for spellings, even going so far as to permit it to override CMOS where they differ. One reason is that we don’t want to imply that fan is a prefix—it can’t be, because it is a noun, a word meaningful on its own. But another, more important reason is that we think separating the two words emphasizes the status of the fan herself. Thus in TWC’s style, fan words are almost always open compounds, not solid or hyphenated compounds: fan work, fan artwork, fan vid. It’s not a fanwork; it’s a fan work, a work created by an agent, the fan. By styling it open, we are making a kind of political statement that emphasizes agency.

However, when it comes right down to it, TWC likes to use published reference works to make production easier: team members and authors can look items up and be confident they are correctly styled, and, at least for styling references, conformity to a published style means that bibliographic citation managers, such as Zotero and OneNote, may be used without modifying the output. Despite the political implications of styling it open, if MW changes fan fic to fanfic, TWC will change its style. If MW changes Web site to website, TWC will change its style. Published standards result in pleasing stylistic conformity.* And they make the life of production personnel so, so much easier.

A shortened version of the new style appears in the instructions for authors on TWC’s Web site. The long version contains a lot of detailed information really only relevant to the production team. If we have done our jobs correctly, the edited documents will read so clearly that meaning is immediately evident, with no distracting errors: do regular readers of the journal even notice that we style it Web site? Didn’t think so.

In a well-edited document, the editing ought to be invisible. Standards are there to help that happen, and that’s why we follow them.

Endnote

* Most words we look up are compound words, not words we don’t know how to spell. Is a term one word, two words, or hyphenated? We need to know. The rule is, if a compound word is not in MW (the only dictionary used in the US academic publishing industry), it’s two words. TWC prefers to style most things always open; it usually isn’t confusing to omit a hyphen to indicate that the terms are linked.

[META] Fan fiction as play

Our guest blogger this week is: Susanna Goodin, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Philosophy Adjunct Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies University of Wyoming ~~~ No other type of writing does what fan fiction does: It allows the writer to play. Think about it. How do most of us get into fan fiction? A story captures our imagination. It doesn’t matter if the source is great literature, popular fiction, film, play, or poem. We become captivated with a setting or with characters; the original work creates a mental space within our minds that we are loathe to leave, and so we continue to think about the original work long after we have closed the book or left the theater. We can certainly enjoy or study the work without writing fan fiction. We can go out for coffee and talk about the film. We can gather in someone’s home and talk about a novel we have all read. We can go on-line and join a forum and discuss details ad naseum. If we are of a scholarly inclination, we can write a critical essay discussing themes and implications. But in all these cases we are sticking to the story itself. There remains the option of going beyond the story itself and beginning to play with it. We use the thoughts we are having about the original to write a story of our own, playing with it by continuing the tale, revising it, or using it as a jumping off point to go wherever our mind’s fancy takes us. It isn’t that I can’t create my own worlds; it’s just that, sometimes, I have something different in mind. I really like some of the worlds out there that have already been created and I want to spend time in them, see more about what is going on, discuss it with others, and get their take on it. I want to play with the world and play within the world that has captivated me. Fan fiction often consists of what are known as fixes, what-ifs, or gap fillers. A common move is to take characters from one story and place them within another, then explore what might happen. Come play the “what-if” game with me and imagine for the moment that Captain Vere from Melville’s Billy Budd were to find himself in the kitchen with the two women from Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers.” Should a person write this story, they would be writing fan fiction, drawing upon a common original source and using it to explore new possibilities. The interest is not in creating new characters or a new setting, but using, playing with, established characters to explore new possibilities. Would Captain Vere adhere so rigidly to justice if faced with the same evidence as the women in that cold, desolate kitchen as he did on a ship during wartime? Perhaps the majority of the readers of this blog do not know Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” (or the play version of the same story called Trifles). Then the power of imagining Captain Vere in the kitchen is lost. And if I have to spend my time writing a story that sets up a similar situation to that found in Glaspell’s work, then the focus of imagining Vere in that so very bleak kitchen is lost. But what if Frodo had sent Merry and Pippin back to Hobbiton rather than allowed them to accompany him on the Quest? What if Snape went to IKEA? The point here is that, whether we are dealing with literature and asking serious questions about justice or writing crack!fic about popular children’s stories, it doesn’t matter. What we are doing involves playing with a shared, known original text, and as such it all qualifies as fan fiction. The type of writing that shows up in fan fiction couldn’t happen in any other setting because the work deals with the possibility of capturing a moment and playing with it, where the focus is on the playing (twisting, revising, exploring) rather than on the establishing, since the work of establishing the moment was done in the original work. Fan fiction can also provide a study into an otherwise minor moment in the original work, revisit the moment from a different perspective, or use the moment to tell another story entirely. Fan fiction can draw upon an established story with known characters to create a mood, moment, or story that is not possible unless there is shared knowledge of the original. It only works if the audience knows the reference, for if the reference has to be created anew each time, as an original work, the focus of the piece about the mood or the moment would be altered. For example, consider the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. This play is fan fiction–professional fan fiction written at the highest level, but fan fiction nonetheless. (One might even argue that it counts as slash, since the introduction of the Alfred character creates a homoerotic subtext that was not there in Hamlet.) The success of the play depends entirely upon a shared knowledge of the source material. Granted, Stoppard has written a play that can be enjoyed by those who know nothing of Hamlet, but to grasp the full import of Stoppard’s work, knowledge of Hamlet is essential. In other words, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead depends upon there being a Hamlet fandom. What Stoppard does in his play is play with Shakespeare’s play. I would like to be able to refer to fan fiction writing as playing-writing, but I suspect the playwrights would object. My claim is that fan fiction is playing and that in order for that playing to occur and to be the focus of the writing, it needs a common source upon which to draw. This means that there needs to be a fandom—others out there to read and write within the same story world that I am reading and writing in. I’ll end with a final comment that is beyond the scope of this post but merits further exploration. There is a psychological component to the notion of play. One doesn’t play unless one is comfortable in the environment. There needs to be a sense of freedom and acceptance. And since playing often is improved by the presence of playmates, the play is more fun in a community of like-minded individuals. Women tend to be far more communal than men—they are less competitive and judgmental. I mention this as a partial possible explanation for why the majority of fan fiction writers are women.

[META] Genre shift?

When I started reading fan fiction, around 2002, I ran across fan fiction of all ratings right away. I had vaguely heard of fan fiction and ‘zines as far back as the seventies, but I had never read any or even seen any except in passing. When I got interested in fan fiction, I found it online, and I ran across missing scenes that could have been slotted right into the original shows or movies or books, and I also ran across triple-X rated, *fans self* porn that most emphatically rejected the fade to black — sexually explicit stories that could never have been included in the original books or movies, but showed the characters we knew and loved in bed. When I first ran across the term “slash”, I wrongly assumed it meant any adult-rated romantic fan fiction story. Furthermore, I assumed that if fan fiction were grouped in any way, it would be divided into categories I knew from mainstream movies — the G, PG and PG13 stuff would be separate from the R and NC17 stuff. I was completely surprised to learn, the more I explored list-based and Livejournal-based fan fiction, that in fact the groupings were based on other concerns completely. The categories I found were gen, slash, femslash and het, and the boundaries between them were less about ratings for explicit sex or violence than about the presence or absence of romance, and the presence or absence of same-sex relationships. My preconceptions were, perhaps, a product of my 21st-century introduction to fan works. A little history, drawn from articles on media fandom (meaning fan communities that grow up around TV, movies, and other forms of pop culture), on Fanlore, this article by Coppa in Transformative Works and Cultures, and her chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet”. Fan fiction as written within media fandom seems to have been an outgrowth of science fiction fandom, and seems to date from the sixties and early seventies. When fan writers began weaving their own tales about Kirk and Spock and Number One and the Alien Babe of the Week, the male/male slash was hidden away in boxes under the tables, while the straight romances, even the explicit stories and the explicit art, were displayed widely at conventions, along with the action-oriented, plot-oriented fan stories whose focus was not romance and which became known as gen. Based on my readings in fan history, it seems that the first widely written femslash came out of Xena, and that fandom seems to have a separate history. (Please correct me if you have different information!) As we all know, societal attitudes toward same-sex relationships were harsh in the sixties in the USA — and still are, in many places. Because the Hollywood TV and movie canons we write about are so, so, so heteronormative, fan fiction that tells stories about intimate relationships between men or between women is usually pairing off people who aren’t presented as queer in the original shows or movies. (As an aside, the range of sexualities explored in fan fiction is limitless and often sets aside entirely the idea of sexual binaries.) So the objection to the earliest slash fan fiction often took the tack of: “Oh no! Don’t make that character gay!” Gay, lesbian or queer characters in mainstream Hollywood productions are very, very rare to this day. So if you hold out for only the romantic relationships that are present in the original canon, that means het (unless your fandom is Torchwood or one of the non-Western fandoms….). Of course, we’ll always have subtext, and certainly we are all watching different shows in our heads, and Hollywood is getting less reluctant to show us non-straight characters, but…. Let’s just say the lavender revolution is not yet in Hollywood. So my exploration of the history of fan fiction showed me a het+gen versus slash+femslash divide (and femslash is still by far the rarest category — all that history deserves a post of its own. In the meantime, I direct you to the Fanlore entry on Femslash, which is just fascinating.). But it’s my impression, and cryptoxin has written about this as well, that the het+gen/femslash+slash split is not as pronounced these days, two generations into what’s become known as media fandom. The lines that delineate the camps are blurring. Why is this? I’d love to hear your answers. I think it’s because movies and TV now include more female characters in roles other than Babe of the Week, and even occasionally pass the Bechdel Test. One reason that is sometimes advanced for the emergence of slash was the lack of strong female characters in television and movies in the sixties. I don’t know that I buy that, but it is true that fan writers now have a broader range of strong characters of both sexes from which to draw for our stories. So, my question is this: Do we have one fan fiction community now, instead of two or three or four? Or maybe we still have two, but a different two than slash+femslash and gen+het — maybe now we really do have the two categories I wrongly assumed almost a decade ago: Adult Rated, and Everything Else? And if these category lines have blurred, is it because society changed in terms of accepting queers? Or is it the shows that changed? Have vehicles like Buffy and Leverage and Stargate Atlantis and Queer as Folk and Torchwood, shows that have queer characters and female protagonists, driven the shift I see — the blurring of fan fiction genre lines and the lessening of negative judgments against each genre? For example, I rarely see today’s slash fans asserting that “there’s no good het” — and honestly, I always have a hard time understanding how bad het fanfic could be any worse than the badfic of any other genre! Another question: Did the internet accelerate the boundary crossing among fan fiction genres after, say, 1995? And, am I wrong in my additional impression that the fan enterprise of writing romances involving two people who are not traditional male/female, perhaps doesn’t horrify The Powers That Be as it once did? I do know that it was slash which captured the attention of the academic researchers, moreso than erotica of any other type, because it seemed “strange” that women would be interested in porn about two men. (Fan fiction is overwhelmingly written by women.) There’s a terrific discussion of this in Driscoll’s chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet.” But surely, such an interest is not strange anymore to academics? Or to Hollywood? Or is my personal comfort level with this type of fanfic — and with GLBT lit in general, for that matter — obscuring for me a colder reality? There will never be an end to ‘ship wars, of course, and probably never an end to gen-only fans ruefully noting what they see as a fan fiction community preoccupied with romance and sex at the expense of other kinds of stories, but at least within media fandom, it seems to me that the het and the slash and femslash and poly and noromo and bob fans coexist much more peaceably than in earlier days.

[META] Existing settings, existing characters

We are all familiar with the elements of fiction: plot, character, theme, setting, point of view.

When a writer decides to set a story in San Francisco in 1980, or in Bonn in 1950, or in her home town the year she was twenty, there’s research involved. What did the place look like? What were the landmarks? What was the weather like? What was under construction? What blooms in which seasons?

The more familiarity the writer has with the place, the better and more vivid the story.

And, no one thinks it’s cheating if a writer uses a real place for the setting of a story. Quite the reverse.

No one thinks it’s “better” or “more creative” to make up a setting from scratch instead of using an already existing city or countryside. (In fact, the genres where making up a setting from scratch is normally necessary, like SF or fantasy, are often dissed by lovers of literary fiction.)

A large part of the joy of reading, say, Robert Parker’s Spenser novels is enjoying Boston through his eyes. The entire genre of travel literature lets us all explore, fictionally and nonfictionally, places we already know and love.

Fan fiction does exactly this same thing, but with character instead of setting.

The last go-round, this spring, regarding the legitimacy and definitions of fan fiction (and this is a topic that comes around a lot on the guitar) seemed to be very focused on copyright restrictions and authorial control. The fantasy author Diana Gabaldon, in blog posts that were mostly, alas, deleted afterward, took serious offense at fan fiction and was soundly and elegantly rebutted by another author at Bookshop, Livejournal.com, May 3, 2010.

Then, in related developments, the well-known blog BoingBoing listed a bunch of Pulitzer Prize winning works that can be defined as fan fiction, prompting cofax7 to offer a definition of the genre (Dreamwidth.org, cofax7, May 28, 2010). If you read her post, do read the comments too, for more nuances and discussion. On the other hand, the BoingBoing comments are pretty funny! In the “oh no” sort of way.

(As a tangent: Bookshop also links to one of her own comments where she addresses succinctly what is one of the biggest misunderstandings in this perennial discussion: Many people seem to keep going all bzuh at the idea — central to fan fiction — of writing something and sharing it with a community, with no intention or desire to sell said piece of writing for money.)

Like Bookshop, I’m kind of bemused every time I have to have the conversation about why fan fiction is way okay. Aren’t we there yet? So maybe I can offer yet another way of making the argument: Any writing textbook lists those five elements of fiction. Why are the anti-fan fiction critics so hung up on the presumed necessity for original characters in the best-quality fiction, but see no necessity whatsoever for original settings?