Hi, MB! I’m Aja! I’m your newest columnist and I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ve been brought on board primarily to give a pan-fandom perspective to the work being done on this site, and to regularly infuriate you all with my hastily conceived opinions! So let’s just dive right in, shall we? :D
I’ve been in fandom for 14 years. I’ve been active in lit, media, RPF, and Asian fandoms, writing het, slash, and femslash. If this is all fangirl Japanese to you, please let me know, guys, because I am going to be spending a lot of time talking about fandom in this column (which is why it’s called FANBATTE! is that not the greatest name ever) and I want to make sure I start from the same place as the rest of you! I feel comfortable claiming a general acquaintance with fandom history and culture regarding literary fandoms, “western media” fandoms, comics fandom, sci-fi/fantasy fandoms, anime/manga fandoms, and Asian pop fandoms. I don’t claim that my knowledge is universal (lol what is gaming fandom, what is Vocaloid, what is Homestuck*), but I’m here and this is my column, dammit, so it’s enough to be going on with!
My mission statement, in a nutshell:
Not just okay, but amazing. I believe that participating in fandom is a way of engaging in critical discourse about something you love, and I also believe that fanfiction is part of a huge, centuries-old cultural tradition of recursive literature. Fandom is so cool, and I hope you’ll stick around to talk about it with me, because I’m still learning so much and I hope ! :)
The focus of this column will most likely shift between general topics and discussions of specific canons. I have no idea what those topics and canons will be yet, so if there’s something you’d like me to discuss, please let me know, because I would love to!
* lol j/k no one can explain Homestuck
Now. Let’s talk for a second about Fandom Perspectives. oh wait hang on MJ said this should be a header
This week, the respected romance review site Dear Author is doing a series on fandom and fanfiction. Unfortunately, they’re doing it wrong. So, so wrong, you guys. It’s like they’re trying to have peace talks while hemmed in on all sides by barbed wire. FACEPALM.
In most of the posts so far, the panelists’ starting assumptions and their conclusions actually highlight many of the problems you run into when you generalize about fandom. And since part of what I will do in this column is generalize about fandom based on my personal experiences, I want to start by talking about why such generalization is tricky.
Dear Author has obviously tried to round up differing perspectives and different topics related to fanfiction, so kudos to them for that, really. However, they have not secured a plurality of experience or even knowledgeability about fandom, so their discussions are proving very unsatisfying to many actual fans I’ve talked to who’ve followed along.
There are 3 main reasons for this disconnect between us (as fans) and the representations of fan experience in the DA posts:
- So far, all of Dear Author’s assumptions seem to be built around the idea that fanfiction has to defend itself, that by way of existing it is encroaching on someone else’s space. This is not only a false dichotomy but completely antithetical to the way most fans do fandom and think about their fanfic.
I can’t say this enough. To most fans, what they do is not shameful, it’s natural. And why shouldn’t it be? People have been reworking their favorite stories for centuries. Why is fanfic somehow any different? But if you start your deliberation of fanfic from the perspective that fans have something to be ashamed of, then you color the entire discussion with all kinds of icky assumptions and negative stereotypes. What I will be doing, in my first week here at MB, is unpacking some of these assumptions and attempting to offer a more balanced and nuanced examination of what fandom is and how it operates in various cultural corners of the internet.
- There are no fans from non-western fandoms represented in DA’s list, nor are there any queer fans (at least none I saw representing themselves as queer fans) or femslash fans. If the only voices you hear coming from fandom are from people who are culturally closest to you, then you won’t ever have a well-rounded discussion on what fandom is.
- The majority of the DA discussion about fandom is being had by people who come either from outside of fandom, or from within primarily het fandoms. By “primarily het,” I mean fandoms for which major emphasis is given to canon heterosexual ships within the source pairing, and whose discourse encourage their fans to adhere to canon relationships. (This doesn’t mean that there aren’t subsets of alternate pairing fans within those fandoms, but those other fans don’t typically interact with the rest of the fandom.)
Among these primarily het fandoms, the major ones claimed by the panelists tend to be isolated pockets of fandom that don’t have any interaction with other fandom communities. Fandom, like every other corner of the internet, is as diverse as the people who are in it. So you can have whole communities within fandom that never talk to other communities, and then you can have whole corners of fandom that are focused around being multi-fandom hubs and pan-fandom hubs (like Livejournal or formerly Delicious), that also have their own limitations and cultural expectations that don’t translate out to the “satellite” communities of fandom. And that can become a problem because you can wind up with people who have drastically different conceptions of: a) what fandom looks like; b) what fans are doing fandom for; c) who is in fandom; and d) what kind of fanworks are produced by fandom.
D) is especially important because the fanfic that you find on, for example, AFF, looks nothing like the fanfic you find on AO3. By the same token, someone who is in an archive-based fandom would not have the same conception of what fandom is as someone who is involved in primarily livejournal communities, or for example Tumblr, where there are natural overlaps and discourse between all kinds of fandoms and fans. The Austen and Twilight fandoms are both represented several times on the panel, probably because of their close ties to the romance industry. While these fandoms are totally different in many respects, they are both well-known for being primarily archive-based rather than pan-fandom-community based. This means that pan-fandom fans don’t talk to them, and they don’t talk to us, which leads to a huge disconnect on both sides about what fandom is for everyone involved.
As an example, for years every time rare fandom nomination came up during Yuletide, people attempted to nominate Pride & Prejudice, and every year those of us who actually knew anything about Austen fandom would have to explain that Pride & Prejudice is in no way a rare fandom; that it actually has thousands upon thousands of fanfics and hundreds more published fanfics to its name–they just were all tucked away in archives and not in spaces that the typical Yuletide participant played in. So this disconnect hurts communication on both sides of the divide.
All of this translates into a need to recognize that your experiences are not universal. I’m going to spend a lot of time counter-arguing many of Dear Author’s other posts from this week, so I’ll just point to their post “Fan fiction: a personal perspective” as an example of an open-minded post about keeping your own experience in perspective.
If only the rest of their posts took this advice! Instead, the overall impression of fandom that I and others are taking away from this series is that fandom is primarily shamefaced, defensive, and poorly attempting to justify copyright infringement.
To all of which, over the next week, I will be merrily calling bullshit.
Whew! Okay, so that’s me finished for now! What about you guys? WHO EVEN ARE YOU PEOPLE? Where do you come from? What perspectives do you bring to your corner of the internet? Are you in fandom? (Hint: are you reading this site? Then yes.) Oh my god this post is 1300 words long. HERE, HAVE ANOTHER K-POP GROUP.
Myrah saysMarch 20, 2012 at 10:50 pm
I’m in a Fandom Studies class right now, so seeing this column is kind of SUPER EXCITING. I’m probably going to link my entire class to you.
Anyway, who am I? Eh, I got into fandom through fanfiction about six years ago and fanfiction is still by far my biggest conduit/outlet for fandom. I’m been in Western fandoms and non-Western fandoms, but mostly manga fandoms lately. The only types of fandoms I haven’t been in are music fandoms or RPF fandoms, but one of my friends is kind of heavy into both, so I feel like I’ve experienced them too. I started out reading het fic, then drifted into slash and femslash. I’ve written het, slash, and gen fic and I’ve done both short work and long fic. I think mmvs are just about the coolest thing ever, but I suck at making them.
That’s just about it, in short anyway. Yeah. Good luck with this column! I’ll be watching. :)
Aja Romano saysMarch 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm
I’ve heard of other courses on fandom being offered other places, but i’ve never actually gotten to take one so i am very envious! :D I have had some of my fanfiction taught in college courses, though, which is pretty much one of the coolest things that can happen to a person ever.
Ooh, what kind of manga have you been reading? I have only read a couple of series in the last few years because I’ve been super-heavily-esconced in the Inception fandom, so I have slacked off reading everything. (Which sucks when you’re trying to bill yourself as a book review blogger! YES! i just…er. don’t feel like reading anything that isn’t this catboy!AU. Er.)
In my acquisition of fannish skills, the only thing I really lack is the ability to do vidding. All I want is a series of Prince of Tennis AMVs set to cheesy 80’s love ballads, but this will probably never happen. ONE DAY!
Thank you for reading and commenting! I am so happy you did not go UM WHAT IS THIS *BACK BUTTON*! :D
Myrah saysMarch 22, 2012 at 10:07 am
I’m mostly involved in Nabari no Ou at the moment because that’s what I’m doing my class project on. Other recent manga fandoms: just got into Hikaru no Go last year (late to the party, LOL) been following Tsubasa: Reservior Chronicle and xxxHolic fandom for a while now, and been in and out Fullmetal Alchemist. Been reading a lot of other stuff, but most of it doesn’t have much of a fandom/no fandom that I’m interested in.
Fandom’s been sucking up most of my life recently too, haha. Luckily, the only life I have is school life and I somehow manage to keep my grades up. There’s a lot of other stuff I’d love to do, but fandom always comes up first priority during my free time.
Off to read your new post now…
Ysabet saysMarch 20, 2012 at 11:34 pm
I am deeply excited about this column. *^^* (Honestly, I’m in favor of anything that helps shift anyone’s definition of “fandom” from “people who pirate manga instead of buying it” to…anything that comes *remotely* close to a way fandom defines itself. I see people using the word “fandom” that way and it makes me want to bite things.)
But! Mostly I’m excited because your column is going to be awesome. It’s great that Melinda’s adding this perspective to the site and that she’s asked you to do it.
As for who I am…I’ve been in anime/manga fandom for about seventeen years (O_O), as both a lurker and a fanfic writer. I read fanfic and meta discussions and squee in some “western media” fandoms too, but usually in full-on lurker mode. Fandom in general fascinates me, so I’m all over fannish meta. ^_^ And I’ve been rewriting/adapting manga for five or six years now, so I’ve got vested interests in the industry corner as well as the fannish one.
Aja Romano saysMarch 21, 2012 at 11:12 pm
Hi! I’m so happy you’re excited! I always feel like maybe people are really used to the concept of fandom being a normal healthy activity, and then series like the one over at DA come out and I remember how new fandom still is to a lot of people. Which is maybe why we like the meta so much? :D
I am basically the opposite—I tend to spend lots of lurker time in japanese and korean fandoms. By which I mean voraciously saving gifs on tumblr.
thank you for the comment! :D
Ysabet saysMarch 22, 2012 at 9:02 am
Most of my friends are either fannish or seriously geeky in other ways, or at the very least are used to me after long exposure (*laughs*), so I tend to be floored when I meet someone who doesn’t have any idea what I mean when I mention fanfiction etc. But apparently there’re still tons of people out there who are still totally unfamiliar with the concept of fandom, never mind what it actually means to the people involved in it. Meta and informative discussion FTW! (On top of my generally-keen interest in these things, part of my excitement over your column is also that I read you on DW and really like the way you think about fandom. ^_^)
Lorin saysMarch 20, 2012 at 11:36 pm
Instead, the overall impression of fandom that I and others are taking away from this series is that fandom is primarily shamefaced, defensive, and poorly attempting to justify copyright infringement.
Reading some of these Dear Author posts is leaving me at a bit of a loss. This stuff used to absolutely enrage me, but now it just makes me kind of sad. Is this really how the writers view fandom? And it’s not that discussions of plagiarism, transformative vs. derivative, etc. don’t have their place, but when they’re presented as the starting point in a discussion about fanfiction, and all the participants in the discussion are coming in with ‘I don’t write fanfic, but…’ or ‘let’s talk about A’s plagiarism and B’s commercialization of ff’ and this general idea that fandom is something that hovers in a moral gray area, they pretty much leave non-fandom readers with no picture of the larger context. Your point about perspective is spot-on.
Anyway! I love getting Fandom/manga blogosphere crossover, and I’m looking forward to your Dear Author counter-arguments.
Aja Romano saysMarch 22, 2012 at 2:53 pm
I think a lot of fans just absorb the larger cultural attitude of “oh that’s shameful” because for so long there’s been such a stigma of shame around all fan activity as part of larger stigmas attached to geek culture. And a lot of that’s dying out as geeks inherit the earth, etc, but there’s still a lot of holdover. I linked to my ‘I’m done explaining why fanfic is okay’ post that I made back in 2010. When I made it I really just assumed that all of what I was saying was a GIVEN among fans, that fans just knew all of it and rolled with it. But I had a lot of fans respond to that post to say that it was enlightening, that they never considered that fandom is supported by a long cultural history of reworking previous works. One thing I’m glad that I can do is a fan is speak out openly about the fan practices I engage in and how powerful they are. How much I learn from them and how they are not only not morally gray but actually culturally important, intellectually stimulating, and exciting!
so glad you made the point about how ‘fandom is immoral’ is always used as a starting point for these discussions. i’m going to be talking about that in my next post, which is the one rebutting the post called, speak of the devil, ‘Fandom and Morality.’ HEADDESK.
Sara K. saysMarch 20, 2012 at 11:38 pm
Ummm, what is an archive based fandom, what is a pan-fandom based community, and how are they different from each other?
While I have participated in various fandoms over the years, I generally stay out of the fanfiction side, so while I know fanfiction is the center of many people’s experience of fandom, it is not the center of mine. While I know the most common terms (i.e. canon pairings), I am going to need more obscure fanfiction terms explained to me.
Aja Romano saysMarch 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm
Yay, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the column so far!
I talked to Melinda about the fandom terminology thing and we came up with a separate compilation of terms and concepts to be used and added to as necessary! Thank you for pointing out the need for it. :D
Estara saysMarch 21, 2012 at 8:32 am
Hello, my name is Estara (online, anyway) and I have never read fanfic regularly but have been occasionally linked to it by LJ friends, some of them fanfic writers, some of the published writers – especially around Yuletide. I enjoy reading fanfics set in worlds from books I have read. I’m a regular Manga Bookshelf reader, manga reader, romance reader and fantasy reader and read DA regularly, too.
So when you asked for ideas for posts I was going to ask if you could talk about your perception of the Fifty Shades of Grey publishing thing (which set off that whole series of posts) and about the DA series.
Great to a have another perspective on board of this very versatile ship of manga criticism and impression.
Aja Romano saysMarch 22, 2012 at 4:15 pm
I am going to talk a little about 50 Shades of Grey in my next post, which is in response to their post about ‘Fandom and Morality.’ Oi. or should i say, orz.
kireipan saysMarch 21, 2012 at 12:26 pm
Hi, I’m a total outsider to fanfic-based fandom and western media fandom but this sounds like a very interesting column and your first post has already taught me a lot about this world that I’ve never known much about ^^ I’m looking forward to your posts but like Sara K. I’d appreciate it if you could throw in brief descriptions of terms or websites that outsiders might not have heard of. For example, you describe Dear Author as a respected romance review site, which is plenty sufficient for understanding of what the site does and what kind of standing it has within its community but I drew a blank when you later refer to AO3 and Yuletide; clicking on their respective links gives an idea of what those sites do but not a perspective of how mainstream or niche they might be, or which parts of fandom they’re used by.
Looking forward to the next post!
Aja Romano saysMarch 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm
hi! If it helps, I’ve created a glossary of sorts here! I will update as terms come up, and I will try to give more clarity in posts where concepts may not be clear. :D Thank you for the suggestion!
Debs saysMarch 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm
Gotta say – you left a sparkling first impression for a columnist who claims to not know what they’re doing. :D
I’m Debs and I’ve been solidly in manga/gaming fandom for…gosh, pushing a decade now, and while I’m not currently writing, I definitely entered this wacky world via fanfiction and still keep up with my current fandom’s fic fairly regularly. I’ve done ff.net, Livejournal, Tumblr, and I’m pretty excited to see viewpoints from those corners of fandoms leaking into blogs like Mangabookshelf.
Looking forward to seeing more of this column!
JRB saysMarch 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm
An auspicious start to your column! I consider myself a fan of a number of things, but have never had any interest in fanfic (either producing or writing), so like a few of the other commentators I’d find it helpful to have a bit more background on the different types of fanfic communities / structures, etc. I’m hoping you will also discuss some of the non-fanfiction aspects of fandom-ness if you have time.
hostilecrayon saysMarch 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm
HI AJA! :D
You already know me, but for the sake of participating…
I have been in fandom for about seven years now. My primary corner of fandom is Japanese manga and anime, mainly participated in on LJ, DW, and archives like Fanfiction.net, AO3, and back when it was active, Media Miner. I’ve tried Yahoo Groups MLs, but I never really got into that. I am, first and foremost, a slash fan, but I like all pairings depending on the canon, and I’ve both participated in dead fandoms all by my lonesome and active fandoms with a whole bunch of other fans. I’ve been in fandoms, like Gundam Wing, where the slash fans keep completely separate from the het fans, and I’ve been in fandoms, like Hikaru no Go, where the slash is right next to the het and we all get along and don’t care what anyone’s ship is as long as there’s MORE FIC (or art, or meta, or vids, or fan soundtracks, or… well, you get the picture).
What I’d like to see talked about? Well, as a slash writer, I’d really like to see something about the differences in perspective from het, slash and femmeslash fans, and also maybe a little bit of a discussion on why these groups tend to isolate themselves from each other. Really, any discussions addressing slash fans, which I’m sure you were already planning on. :D
Great series, Aja!
hostilecrayon saysMarch 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm
Oh yeah, I’m kinda in gaming fandom, too. XDDD
AzureLunatic saysMarch 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm
Allow me to attempt to start explaining Homestuck. It is a webcomic in the format of a role-playing-game style video game. For the non-gamers (like, heh, me), role-playing style is where you are presented with some characters and situations, and you are walked through the world of the game like a choose-your-own-adventure novel with intermittent battles, puzzles, and mini-movies. Homestuck is not actually a game because there is only one outcome possible from each scene. It is sort of as if you were watching someone else play the game. It calls upon a lot of game and fannish tropes (in homage, mockery, or both), so the more exposure you have had to gamer and fandom culture, the more you will get from the series. There. I think that is the best explanation that I am equal to.
Molly saysMarch 23, 2012 at 1:45 am
I followed here from Tumblr, but I also hang around LJ, DW, Twitter, etc. under various names (primarily five_of_five or KissMyAshes), and since I generally think you have brilliant things to say re: fandom I figured I’d check this out too. Turns out I was right, because this? Is brilliant. Anyway, my fan experience. Gosh, it’s…varied. In high school I started out with gaming fandom (mostly Final Fantasy), quickly added various manga series and through manga I discovered yaoi/yuri. Soon I was involved in various TV fandoms; Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Stargate, Due South, Dark Angel (I know, it was awful, I have no excuse), with a mix of het, slash, and femslash. Soon books, movies, basically anything that caught my attention I would look for the fan community online, sometimes I would stick around for a while (Merlin, The Walking Dead) other times I’d satisfy my curiosity by seeing what was out there and either not find much (Cadfael) or not find what I was looking for (The Lord of the Rings, to be fair it was soon after the movies came out and I was too impatient to slog through the Aragorn/Legolas fics to find what I wanted). Within the last few years I’ve added Hockey RPS, I’d always tried to stay away from RPF before, because real people vs. fictional was a sticking point for me, but well…I got unstuck. My latest (and by latest I mean the past two years) fandom has been Inception, primarily Arthur/Eames although I’ll read almost anything. When it comes to my participation in fandoms, mostly I read fanfic or look at fanart/fanvids, sometimes I write and with the exception of a couple vids I never do anything artistic because there’s no reason to inflict that on innocents.
One interesting thing that has come from my involvement in fandom is that I’ve actually gotten my mom to start reading what we’ve taken to calling “authorized fanfiction”. She was already reading it for years before I ever got involved, but never knew that’s what it was. She’s the one who nurtured my love of Star Trek, and has quite possibly the largest collection of Star Trek books on the East Coast. Those published fanworks in the end are no different from fanfiction, except that the authors get published and paid. I mean they had a Star Trek crossover with X-Men for crying out loud, it’s fanfiction. Anyway, she began to wonder what else might have “authorized fanfiction” and has begun reading Pride and Prejudice as told by Mr. Darcy, and P&P inspired murder mysteries, continuations of her favorite girl’s school books, all kinds of things and loving them just as much as I love the fanfiction I find online. She’s even taken to musing out extended endings for favorite books/TV shows/movies, continuations of the stories and what she hopes happened, and wishing she had time to write them out.
This is just one example of how fanfiction brings people together. I haven’t stayed in the Inception fandom for two years just because I love the story (which I do) but also because of the people I found and the community that’s been built around Inception. I didn’t start writing fanfiction until my Buffy and Supernatural days, I’d beta read before and been on the fringe but never an active participant in any fandom. The first time I pressed “submit” and put something I wrote out into the world, I went outside at 3am and stood in my backyard trying not to hyperventilate. Then miracle of miracles, people didn’t flay me alive. No one said I sucked or that I should be ashamed of myself, a few people said they liked words that I had written, and then moved on because this was just another day for them. This was just part of their world, fanfiction was awesome, someone had written something new that didn’t totally suck, and that was it. My whole world opened up, I was this shy, insecure, shy, nerdy, shy, young woman who had never written something that wasn’t graded by a teacher, and suddenly there was this whole community of people who all had their own stories but came together because they loved to write. It was amazing to me, and it still is, and I’m not going to be ashamed of that.