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General Disclaimers: 1) It needs to be said that this does not apply to all fandoms, nor across the board to the ones it does apply. 2) This is how I experienced fandom on LiveJournal, where as far as I can tell, fandom has made its home.

PREMISE OF ARGUMENT

Once upon a time, there was a movement called “Bohemian.” This movement was made up of artists, musicians, and writers. It was during the nineteenth century, and their reason for being was to create works that were against the grain of mainstream culture, satirize established conventions of the time, and in effect flaunt the idea of things held sacred. They had a mode of dress, a style of conduct and lived “bohemian” lifestyles. Their supreme aim was nothing less than entertainment.

Fast forward to the twentieth century. Specifically, the second half. Change the mediums (but not much), and the origination of material, and give it a different name, and you have something called Fandom.

Fandom was a subcultural mental space created initially by artists and writers, and then vidders, for the reason of creating works that were against the grain of mainstream culture, to satirize, criticize, and flaunt conventions and things held sacred. We’ll get to the why at the end, though of course we all know why.

It was a place without windows or doors to the outside world, as the creations, like certain seeds needed a dark, warm space to grow. The nature of fandom, its ultimate goal was nothing more and nothing less than entertainment.

Fast forward a little bit more, and a funny thing happened.

“Fangirls” arrived in fandom.

These new arrivals were loud, brash, self-serving, spoke in high-pitched, nonsensical patterns, were a combination of the above, or all of the above. They seemed more interested in drawing attention to themselves than about contributing to the commons that was fandom.

The rest of fandom, slightly shell-shocked, gave them distance. (Back then, “fangirl” was a wholly dirty word. But many female fen did not mind being referred to as fangirls--myself included--and only felt that the word, like so many in relation to anything female, needed reclaiming.)

But it only got worse. It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually those fangirls got comfortable enough with their newfound world that they decided to fling open the doors and windows to the outside world. Because, since it was all about them anyway, they needed the outside world to care what they were interested in.

That’s the background.

As said, people who’d already been in fandom for a while, some from the start of internet fandom, gave them room. There seemed enough space after all in the kingdom for all comers.

But this new attitude in fandom was heralding the coming of something big: a fundamental change in the nature of fandom.

So the question becomes: If something changes fundamentally, can it still be called that thing?

What is raging through the internet today, can we call it fandom? Or should we differentiate and call it something else in order to ensure the survival of the thing that is fandom?

To define and restate my premise: Fandom is a space created outside of mainstream culture and existing exclusively for the creation of derivative works of art or fiction. It is, and has to be by nature subcultural and nonexclusive.

And the argument I’m making is that fandom is on life support, undergoing a transition that could fundamentally change, and kill it. Here’s why.

PROBLEM #1: MAINSTREAMVITIS: FANGIRLS & THE CREATORS OF ORIGINATING WORKS

If you’re actually in a special creator/fangirl relationship with any creator (whether of a show, movie or book), and have actually had that creator publicly announce and acknowledge you as a muse/collaborator or other form of inspiration, then great, good for you and your fandom. Have fun mainstreaming it.

Barring that, I am here to tell you that creators, no matter what it might seem like in interviews, public appearances, or in print, do not, in fact, have fangirls on their minds when they go about their busy days creating.

They just don’t.

If, as an example, they run a television show, here are the things they actually have to worry about: studio executives’ notes, network executives’ notes, advertisers’ notes, extracting decent pages from their writers, where and how to take suggestions from the actors into consideration, how to make it all fit together. All in a five-day turnaround period, usually.

If a showrunner gives you the implicit, or explicit impression that they also take into account what the “fans on the internet” are saying, or needing, that showrunner is pulling your leg. Trust me on this one. They know exactly what to say publicity-wise to keep you feeling “part of the process.” We are not part of the process.

The question now becomes: Why are we attempting to engage? Should we be part of the process?

The answer, I’m afraid, is no, we should not.

And we should not for two reasons: 1) it’s out of a selfish need: the need that fandom has developed to be recognized and loved by the creators of their obsessions. a.k.a official approval. 2) It is anathema to fannish creativity, and antithetical to the idea of a subcultural space.

I cannot think of a clearer example than mainstreamvitis of how to kill what fandom is.

A tangential, but no less destructive facet of this is confusing celebrity-worship with the nature of fandom.

Again, fandom is space to for the creation of creative works. Where does celebrity worship fit into that? For some, it actually does. Right at entry level. It takes the worship, lust or adoration of a celebrity or actor to generate interest in reading fiction about them or they characters they play.

But where it gets confusing is when the worship of that actor supersedes all else in that fandom. Everything created becomes subservient to the dynamics of that actor-worship, and lack of interest in that real-person actor forces the remainder of the fandom into a kind of state of siege.

The idea of not needing to fangirl the actor playing your favorite character in order to write that pairing just plain blasphemy; the notion of a show’s creator NOT GETTING the fact that you WANT to see your pairing made canon already--because gay is totally socially okay now--outright intolerable.

One aspect of fandom, meant to lubricate the mind, become the focus.

It’s like living in the fantasy of a rabid, spoiled child.

PROBLEM #2: A NEW REQUISITE FOR FANDOM PARTICIPATION: TOTAL AND ABSOLUTE OBSEQUIENCE

A lot of very good writers and artists have left fandom.

This may have to do with real life issues, but on the whole I think we can all tell a story as to why some BNF we knew back in the day has left fandom.

Participating in fandom today requires a total ban on so much as a whisper of anything negative about a movie, book or TV show, about any actor involved in a popular pairing, and sometimes even about a show’s creator (unless the “fandom” is in a wank with them), or there will be hell to pay.

A mature criticism of anything we love because we love it, is vile and repugnant, and causes a chill in the air. A while back, being accused of harshing a fandom buzz was a chuckle-worthy event. Now it’s practically a capital offense. If you do not LOVE IT COMPLETELY, THEN WHY ARE YOU IN THIS FANDOM??

Once upon a time, you could post about how Sam and Dean don’t actually qualify as real characters, but that you could still totally see them fucking. You could say what was wrong with Robert Downey Jr’s shlock performance as Holmes, and still gladly offer up your hundred dollar 12“ Obi Wan doll to see him fuck Jude Law’s Watson, preferably after a rather lengthy bout of lethargy. You could point out all the stupid things about the Trek reboot, and still dream up ways for Kirk to corner and shag McCoy. And why not?

The Boondock Saints movies, for example, are.. I mean, I don’t even know what the word would be: awful, I guess. But I still write Boondock Saints slash. The movie gave me characters, chemistry, and premises I absolutely loved, and the rest I’ll find in fandom. All we need in fandom is a glance at the right moment anyway. You add a world, an opportunity, and by god you have an OTP.

I’m not saying to write rants about how a fandom is deluding itself because the book, TV show or movie is atrocious, or that the story doesn’t work that way. I’m saying I think it’s nuts to demand total obsequiousness. Fascism requires demands obsequiousness.

What I’m saying is that it’s fine that some of our most beloved originating material is mostly crap (that’s what gets some of the best writers motivated--how to fill in those missing things). If you want to porn it, you should be able to do so without having to pretend it’s the come of Christ. How can a girl enjoy attending your lovely tea party if you think your dolls are real?

This is not to say a fandom isn’t true unless you’ve got people coming in and trashing things right and left. Quite the opposite. It’s to say a fandom isn’t true when you force people to line up at the tables and take a swig of the Kool-Aid or get the fuck out.

It shouldn’t be about maintaining a pretty facade.

No genuine critiquing means no genuine love. Just a lot of track marks on your arm.


IN CONCLUSION: WHY IT MATTERS

I hear it so often: the crazies are making the rest of us look bad.

Well, it’s not that the crazies are making the rest of us look bad, it’s that the crazies are fandom now.

The internet is changing the concept of what fandom is, and it brings me back to my original question: If something changes fundamentally, can it still be called that thing?

I say it can’t.

I am perfectly aware of the ”everything can be out in the open,“ and ”I’m important for just being me,“ and ”criticism is mean and unpatriotic,“ trends in our current culture.

But it cannot be held to the whims of a trend is because 1) fandom is a subcultural event. We are the modern-day Bohemians. Whether it’s slash, gen, or het, we are the subverters of mainstream culture. We manipulate, and care little care for established conventions. And we do it all for licentious enjoyment.

This is true whether you like it or not. It’s why no one has or ever will be able to corporatize and re-sell fandom back to us.

And 2) fandom exists to fill a need. We all know what that need was that brought each of us searching. And we were immensely grateful when we found it. It was a space that was independent and separate from the outside world, a sometimes dangerous place, not for the faint of heart, and a sometimes comforting place, and everything in between. And it was real. We needed it to be.

I’m saying that for it to continue to be that thing, it has to maintain structural integrity.

This isn’t about anything as a naive as a call for ”harmony“ in fandom. (I enjoy reading the wanks too much for that.) Neither is it about whether fandom is choked with crap: no one can prevent works of crap from being created, and what right should anyone have to do so? Nor is it about simple whining.

It’s about defining boundaries.

It might seem naive to say it, but fandom really is first and last about creative works. Whether of the poorest or of the best kind. It basically is about being a type of nerd-- a single-minded person who doesn’t care about anything except thoroughly and continually enjoying the characters, story lines, and possibilities of a fictional (whether RPF) world.

This is who you are when you are in fandom. You are a raging NERD.

If this is not what you thought you were signing up for, you signed up for the wrong thing.

If what you have is a burning desire to be recognized by a show’s creator, a book’s author, TV actors, maybe to see your most beloved fic story line written into canon, you need to try something other than fandom (otherwise, you’ll always be wondering why you’re constantly being wanked every time you open your mouth).

If it’s celebrities you signed up for, try ONTD. (The place actually exists, so why not use it?)

This is the end of the decade in which fandom exploded on the internet. I have no doubt that it will continue to grow. But I don’t believe that it will get any cleaner from here on out. Issues will just get messier, and lines will get more blurred.

What I am simply and humbly proposing is that we become aware of this and do something about it.

Halt the trend, re-establish the boundaries, and stick to them. Otherwise we’ll really soon no longer have the prerogative to complain about “the crazies.”

I came into online fandom in what will be exactly six years on Jan. 1st. I got dragged in, limp and unable to form a thought, because of a single look David Wenham cast Sean Bean in the Two Towers Extended. I felt as though I had just seen a sunset for the first time in my life.

Fandom, of recent, has made me feel unpretty. It has burned out some of the best and most creative fen on this endless tug-of-war of “where we belong.” Why stay, when being in fandom was becoming more and more like negotiating a minefield? For some it was a tough decision, for others it was just time to call it quits while they could still recognize the landscape.

I, however, am staying. I just can’t drink the Kool-Aid. I heard it’s laced with cyanide and will kill you if you touch it.

Well there you have it. My argument for boundaries so that we can keep this thing alive. You know, for our children’s children.

Happy New Year, fellow pervs. And may we continue to find hotness and porn in the unlikeliest of places. *g* It’s gonna be a good year.

EDIT: What I hope this essay offers is a clear articulation of what fandom is, so that when the behavior of a person or a group of persons crosses the boundaries, we can say: What you are doing is NOT fandom, and is BAD for fandom, and here's WHY. I think that the more we have a philosophy, the better our chances of surviving intact.

EDIT 2:
- This essay is not about telling you how you should experience fandom.

- It's about pointing out the difference between fandom...and something else.

- For the purpose of trying to rescue fandom from a quagmire.

- So that it continues to survive as something we recognize.

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