Anne Kustritz’s new book, Identity, Community, and Sexuality in Slash Fan Fiction: Pocket Publics has just been released by Routledge (2024).  You might know Kustritz, a scholar of fan cultures and transmedia storytelling, from her early essay “Slashing the Romance Narrative,” in the Journal of American Culture (2003) or maybe from some of her more recent work on transmedia and serial storytelling. But this new book is an exciting addition to the fan studies canon, and Fanhackers readers might be particularly interested, because the book “explores slash fan fiction communities during the pivotal years of the late 1990s and the early 2000s as the practice transitioned from print to digital circulation,”–which is the era that a lot of the fans involved in the creation of the OTW came from. As I noted in my book blurb, “​​While there has been an explosion of fan studies scholarship in the last two decades, we haven’t had an ethnography of fan fiction communities since the early 1990s. Kustritz’s Pocket Publics rectifies that, documenting the generation of slash fans who built much of fandom’s infrastructure and many of its community spaces, both on and off the internet. This generation has had an outsized impact on contemporary fan cultures, and Kustritz shows how these fans created an alternative and subcultural public sphere: a world of their own.”

Kustritz doesn’t just analyze and contextualize fandom, she also describes her own experiences as a participant-observer, and these might resonate with a lot of fans (especially Fanhackers-reading fans!)  Early on in the book, Kustritz describes her how her own early interest in fandom blurred between the personal and the academic:

Because I began studying slash only a year after discovering fandom on-line, my interest has always been an intricate tangle of pleasure in the texts themselves, connection to brilliantly creative women, and fascination with intersections between fan activities and academic theory.  I may now disclaim my academic identity as an interdisciplinary scholar with concentrations in media anthropology and cultural studies and begin to pinpoint my fan identity as a bifictional multifandom media fan; however, I only gradually became aware of and personally invested in these categories as I grew into them.  This section defines the scope of the online observation period that preceded the active interview phase of this research.  In so doing it also examines the messy interconnections between my academic and fannish interests and identities. Trying to pick apart what portion of my choices derived from fannish pleasure and which from academic interest helps to identify the basic internal tensions and categories that slash fan fiction communities relied upon to define themselves, the pressures exerted upon these systems by the digital migration, and complications in academic translation of fannish social structures.

Later in the book, Kustritz discusses how fans have organized and advocated for themselves as a public; in particular, there’s a fascinating chapter about the ways in which fandom has adopted and transformed the figure of the pirate to forge new ways of thinking about copyright and authorship.  If the OTW was formed to argue that making fanworks is a legitimate activity, the figure of the pirate signifies a protest against the law and a refusal to be shamed by it: 

[F]ans also use the figure of the pirate to make arguments that validate some fan activities and consign others to illegitimacy.   At the urging of several friends involved with slash, I attended my first non-slash focused science fiction and fantasy convention in the summer of 2004.  The program schedule announced a Sunday morning panel discussion provocatively titled “Avast, Matey: The Ethics of Pirating Movies, Music, and Software” with the subheading “Computers today can distribute [more] intellectual property than ever before–not always legally. Is it ever okay to copy, download, and/or distribute media? Sorry, ladies, none of us will be dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow.”  The panel’s subheading, which obliquely warned away both lusty women and pirates, led a small contingent of slash fans to shake off Saturday night’s convention revelries unreasonably early and implement a plan of their own for Sunday’s panel.  As many fan conventions encourage costumes, known as “cosplay,” one of my friends and research participants happened to have been dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean that weekend, so I entered the piracy panel with Captain Jack and a motley crew of slashers, some of them intent upon commandeering the discussion.

The clash that followed exemplifies a structural fault line between various types of fan communities regarding their shared norms and beliefs about copyright law, the relationship between fans and producers, and appropriate fan behavior.

If you want to find out how this clash played out–well, you’ll just have to read the book. 😀

Anne Kustritz’s Identity, Community, and Sexuality in Slash Fan Fiction