This isn't quite to do with the Overambitious Dissertation, but it's close enough for government work, and besides, DW is, in my mind, where one posts Srs Bsns sorts of things. So yes, srs bsns, because the election coverage here is dead frustrating and because I don't feel like carrying on with Doctor Who catchup.
ETA: I would like to assert that the below is MY OPINION and not to be taken as gospel, though it is backed up by some academics
some of whom just punched the air
and I do believe it or I wouldn't have taken an hour and written the damn thing.
Anyway, thanks to a Famous Author having a blogsplosion1
about it, the subject of Is Fanfic Valid? has come to the forefront for wankfest, JUST IN TIME FOR MY DISSERTATION! I couldn't have planned it better myself. Everyone's coming out on a side, including some pros.
The whole issue at hand, in my mind, is not the legality or the morality of fanfic. It's not even the offensive
overwrought similes being thrown about, though I could have words about those for an age and a half.2
It's not about how there's a long-standing tradition of derivative works
in 'great' literature. There have been excellent posts
on these topics already and I don't feel the need to repeat myself.
Instead, on the pros' part, there's a demonstrated lack of understanding regarding why fanfic exists. And despite instruction, this lack of understanding carries on and on and on. I think there are people out there who write fic who don't really understand the underlying impulse, because who the hell understands why any of us are motivated to do anything? But being of the cultural studies bent and of the mind that you can break anything down into an underlying cause, I posted this
quote by Henry Jenkins on my LJ yesterday. Jenkins wrote that 18 years ago.3
People were writing fic, but that was before there was much of an online fandom presence outside of newsgroups and bulletin boards. And it's still completely and utterly relevant.
As I commented in my notes the other day, I don't think that every fic writer has an explicit political agenda. Far from it. But there's an underlying narrative of storytelling and universe expansion that some pro writers don't seem to be getting. As Jenkins says, just after that passage in Textual Poachers
, if the canon does not provide, the fan, still wanting to engage with the text, still fascinated with it but frustrated, will go forth and expand upon it. FYI, 'reader' and 'text' are here as shorthand: reader is the consumer, text is the canon, but it's not just printed books.
There's some further reading4
I did that explains why this happens--a combination of reader empathy and the theory of mind
. A good author/creator establishes an underlying emotional connection to the characters and setting as if they belong to a reality, regardless of our awareness of the fictional nature. Consciously, we know it's fiction, but that empathy and understanding that makes something good reading also creates a sort of alternate world wherein characters have thoughts and settings have spaces beyond that in the text. (This idea of worldbuilding is part of where I'm hoping to connect media and FSF fandom for my dissertation, by the way--that's one of the reasons I think people are drawn to SF. But that's my opinion.)
No way can an author cover every possible imagining, or would want to. But the reader's thoughts are still there...and sometimes they come out, in transformative works.
That's why people write fanfic. It's not because pros suck...okay, sometimes it's because pros are frustrating as hell,5
and sometimes people want to 'fix' things as a thought experiment: that doesn't make the canon any less canon. It's not because anyone wants to steal anything and pretend it is theirs alone (though Malcolm Gladwell makes an interesting case about plagiarism here
, as I recently read in What the Dog Saw
, that I'm not sure if I buy). Instead, the pro is at least doing one thing right, and that is attracting the reader, making the reader love something--characters, setting, concepts--and want to expand on that somehow.
It's sometimes political, sometimes for sexytimes, sometimes to play with only one little thing. It's not
for profit, to ruin anything, or because fanfic writers can't write their own original stories. It's for fun
, because there's a world out there to play with, and the original text is only the tip of the iceberg.
Whether or not that is illegal or immoral is relative. But it's been happening for a long time, and it will carry on for more. The risk of being a storyteller is that your story is out there for anyone to look at, anyone to touch and adopt as part of themselves, whether just in their hearts or out on the Internet as a fanfic or published on some dead trees as great literature.
And I'm tired now, so I'm just going to say this: It's all relative. We could all do with a reminder of that from time to time.1 In my mind, this is sort of like a fursplosion, only with posting stuff on the internet that you regret.
2 Creating transformative works/fanworks would not be anywhere near my top ten 'immoral' things. And yes, I say this as someone who wants to direct/screenwrite and who has (minor) published original fiction under her belt.
3 Randomly, my family got our first computer--a Packard Bell 486--in late 1992, and I first discovered online fandom at some point in the next year or two, thanks to Prodigy.
4 Suzanne Keen and Lisa Zunshine.
5 I'm looking at you, Russell T Davies.