Friday, May 7th, 2010

walkingshadow: kirk and spock gaze out of the abyss. text: i believe we've found their webcam, captain. (he who fights with monsters)
Thank you to everyone who came by to take the poll about your fanfiction saving and storage habits! It's taking a little while, but I'm working my way through the comments, which are all AWESOME. Feel free to come by at any time and fill it out or add your two cents, as I have no plans of closing it down until I grow weary of discussing these matters at length and in excruciating detail, i.e. NEVER.

Speaking of adding one's two cents. This most recent iteration of "fanfiction is an abomination and you should all be ASHAMED of yourselves" is just as baffling and hilarious and offensive as all the previous iterations, and everyone has already lined up and knocked down all the responses, including:

  • Fanfiction is not illegal;

  • Even if fanfiction were determined to be illegal under current copyright laws, that would not make it immoral;

  • Fanfiction is unstoppable;

  • Fanfiction is not: stealing, trespassing, plagiarism, or rape. That's why there are words for all of those things! (You know what is rape? RAPE. The end!);

  • Fanfiction is a compliment to the author (people love your books! YOU'RE WELCOME), authorial intent is dead, and authors need to let go of the fantasy that they have any control over how their audience engages with a text once it's been released into the wild;

  • Fanfiction (and the community from which it springs, fandom), brings a lot of joy to a lot of people while bringing harm to no one;

  • Fanfiction is not (at least, not necessarily) merely a means to an end (where "the end" is one day becoming a "real" writer of original works), but is in fact an end in and of itself;

  • Fanfiction can and often does (though it doesn't have to and doesn't always) take as much or more time, effort, research, skill, and imagination to produce as "real" fiction;

  • In fact, ALL art is an ongoing conversation between artists both living and dead; all art draws from the same communal well both within and (with caveats) across cultures; and all art is therefore always essentially derivative, the only difference being one of degree and deliberateness. Fanfiction (along with the larger modern-day transformative and remix culture) is merely the latest incarnation of storytelling traditions that are as old as culture itself, and it only seems weird because never before have so many people had access to writing and publishing tools, and this era of rapidly expanding (N.B. not universal) access follows right on the heels of ANOTHER anomolous era, one characterized by 1) very limited access to—and very tightly-held control of—the tools of writing and publishing, not to mention 2) restrictive laws governing who can do what with the finished product (with the advantage almost never going to the creator of OR the audience for the work, but to the handlers, gatekeepers, and middlemen), to say nothing of 3) largely unspoken rules governing who is allowed to write and what they are allowed to write about. As is always the case when a culture or some aspect of it undergoes unrest and transition, one age didn't smoothly begin just as the other ended, and instead they are currently overlapping and generating incredible friction because of it, like tectonic plates sliding against each other;

  • Fanfiction by any other name is written by professional authors ALL THE TIME, and THEY get to be lauded as literary lights! HYPOCRISY.

Regarding that last point: Whether or not you subscribe to the theory that all art is derivative (as I do), I think almost everyone will allow that at least some art—that is, some published, for-profit, critically-acclaimed art—is derivative. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, for example, or Wicked, or Girl with a Pearl Earring. [personal profile] bookshop has a great big list of them right over here. I'm going to paraphrase what I said to [ profile] leksa when she asked whether collating these lists was even a good idea, let alone a convincing argument*:

See, whenever this issue comes up (every six to twelve months?), I just want to yell, "RICHARD III, THE END", and have it actually BE the end. But it doesn't work like that, because I don't think the problem is selective memory. I don't think anyone who believes fanfiction is a scourge and a crime ever looks at those lists in this context and suddenly realizes, "My god! Richard III was a real person, I forgot! That makes Richard III fanfiction! And if Shakespeare did it, it must be okay!" I think what they almost always say instead is, that doesn't count. That is, that what Shakespeare did in Richard III (and, you know, ALL of his other plays) was fundamentally different from what fanfiction writers on the internet do when they write stories about Harry and Draco, or the characters in Diana Gabaldon's stories (whoever they may be; I swear I had never even HEARD of this woman before this week), or celebrity figures in our contemporary culture.

So through a combination of goalpost-moving, equivocation, and good old-fashioned double standards, they wind up with a fallacious line of argument that goes something like, "what you (fans on the internet) write is horrible, because it is fanfiction; what I (the respectable, published, critically-acclaimed author) write is not fanfiction, because it is good."

Implicit in this reasoning is not only the premise that fanfiction can never be "good" and will never be literature; but an even deeper contempt for fandom in all its forms, and for fans in particular (or at least for fans as they are imagined to be), variously women, teenagers, nerds, losers, amateurs, and plebs—the pathetic, the shrill, and the common. It's a righteous, elitist fury directed at the seething masses who are daring to do something they have no business doing, something above them. Well, fuck that.

The reality is that at least some art is derivative; some is posted by amateurs on the internet, and some is published by respectable publishing houses and printed in books; and some of it is good, and some of it is bad, for whatever values of "good" and "bad" you want to work from; but you can't change those values to suit your argument. And every time you try, those losers on the internet are going to be more than happy to explain how ridiculous you sound, using very small words that hopefully you can understand.

* To clarify, and to hopefully better represent [ profile] leksa's original thoughts on the subject (see her comment below), obviously these lists are a) true!, b) satisfying and gratifying to those of us within fandom, and c) sometimes genuinely effective in changing people's perspectives wrt fanfiction; but they're limited in their efficacy when people can dismiss those parallels between fanfiction and original fiction (for which I discuss at least one motivation above), OR (as [ profile] leksa pointed out) when people accept those parallels, but dismiss and disparage those professional derivative works as much as the amateur ones.

ETA: Thank you for making my point for me, Jasper Fforde!

My thoughts on Fan Fiction are pretty much this: That it seems strange to want to copy or 'augment' someone else's work when you could expend just as much energy and have a lot more fun making up your own. I feel, and I think with good reason, very proprietorial about Thursday and all her escapades; clearly I can't stop you writing and playing what you want in private, and am very flattered that you wish to do so. But anything published in any form whatsoever - and that specifically includes the internet - I cannot encourage, nor approve of.

- Jasper Fforde (emphasis mine)

In the world of Thursday Next, literature is a much more popular medium than in our world, and Thursday is a member of SO-27, the Literary Detectives or LiteraTecs. Her work is centred on Swindon, where she, her husband, infant, and mother live. The importance that literature has in this alternate England is reflected in the fact that so many people want to change their name to that of famous authors that some must be numbered, by law- e.g. John Milton 432. 'WillSpeak' machines are often to be found in public places, such as railway stations- these contain a mannequin of a Shakespearian Character and will quote that character's most famous speeches upon payment.

In addition, the line between literature and reality becomes increasingly thin, allowing characters in the books and those in 'real life' to jump in and out of novels. This leads Thursday to change the ending of Jane Eyre; the joke being that the plot we know in our reality is the far superior change caused by Thursday. This also happens to other classic novels- Uriah Heep becomes the obsequious, and generally insincere character we know, due to an accident inside the book-world and Thursday's uncle Mycroft becomes Sherlock Holmes's brother.

- Wikipedia

There is some Olympic-caliber mental gymnastics going on here! Obviously when Jasper Fforde copies and augments someone else's work, that is not "Fan Fiction". I can't help but wonder how he would feel about a published writer, a fellow author, incorporating Thursday, et al. into their own work. If, say, Neil Gaiman wrote a story that took place in the Socialist Republic of Wales, would Fforde feel just as "proprietorial"? Or would that be an entirely different proposition?


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