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.