I'm not particularly good at this sort of essay (I just like listing things), so I'm relying on you guys to take my one or more of my embryonic ideas and develop them into something interesting. Just so you know :) Once I get other people's input and ya'll point out my many glaring errors I might make a synopsis of the broad trends, but I make no promises. One thing I have noticed is arbitrary distinctions between "trivial embarrassing crap" and "legitimate art" which don't seem to have a whole lot to do with the actual quality of the material.
Now as far as I can see it the relevant properties of fanfic are:
- done mainly by women
- often considered illegal (or at least in a worryingly grey area)
- created as part of a community of people who all discuss and play off each others work
- pornographic/romantic or at least character driven
Feel free to suggest more!
There are many other creative endeavours which share many of these properties. And of course not all fanfic satisfies all of these properties. Still, here are some similar but different groups.
Those which differ by only one property
Not Writing: First off, of course, are all the other sorts of derivative works, fanvids, fanart etc. In most respects the issues surrounding these works are exactly the same as for fanfic, but something I find really interesting is that the comparitive dearth of meta. Admittedly I haven't looked very hard so may just be missing it but I don't see a lot of essays discussing, say, vids in the context of modern cinema or the postmodern symbolism of photo manips. (see comments for more on this)
Possible reasons I've seen mentioned: This derivative branch of fandom1 has a disproportionate number of lit types compared to art/cinema studies (lots of artists, not so many art historians) The sheer history and volume of fanfic. Fic fits much more comfortably into postmodern ideas in academia than vids, as well as being much less legally dangerous. (publishers are not the RIAA)
Are they more or less respected? I'm not sure.
Not By Women: There are apparently communities for fanfic written by men which tends to have more original characters and less relationships. Anyone know anything about this?
EDIT: And of course there are a significant minority of male/trans/etc fanfic writers with their own perspective but people like me keep forgetting to mention them. Sorry guys, I am actually interested in your opinions even if it doesn't show. Also, note men_who_slash
Not Free: People have charged for fanfic in the past, but afaict it was just to cover costs so I'm not sure that's very interesting. Still, worth mentioning.
Unambiguously legal: Afaict fanfic of public domain works is an unremarked subset of "rare lit" (along with in copyright stuff like Narnia etc) and there isn't any intersection between the fanficcers who go on to publish original works and authors of published public domain "fanfic" like "The Wide Sargasso Sea". I find this interesting.
Not Derivative: There is a thriving online community of writers of original fiction. Many of them are working towards hopefully being published one day, but some just enjoy the act of creating and then sharing that creation with others, as well as the sense of community. I'm not in any such communities myself but muses_stewpot for example has to me a similar feel to a lot of fanfic challenges and I imagine that while they can share tropes and genre (such as sfandf_critters) they would lack the cohesiveness of a single shared universe to play in.
They don't get the "pathetic nerd" label so much, but still get crap for "wasting their time" rather than trying to make money.
Are there communities of women writing non-fanfic porn together? I know there's fanficcers-gone-pro, anyone else?2 (from comments: yes, yes there is)
Not Online: I'm not involved with my local slasher scene (not being a slasher nor a fanfic writer in general) but there does seem to be one (if only at cons) And of course there's the rich and colourful history of zines etc from the Dark Ages before the intertubes came.
Not created as part of a community of people who all discuss and play off each others work: Sometimes people write fanfic for themselves, and are not really interested in discussing it with other people.
Not Pornographic/romantic/character driven: *waves "I love gen" flag*. I find it interesting that fic is so strongly categorised along shipping/kink lines. And even in gen there is Very Little Fic that is not largely about the emotional journey the canon characters go through. Stories with entirely original casts are very rare indeed.
This probably doesn't interest anyone but me, since afaict I'm the only person in the world who wants to read idea-driven gen about original characters (well, I guess there's at least one other)
Some other interesting communities
Real person fic: Afaict this is neither illegal or derivative, yet is just as stigmatised (if not more so) than fanfic. As I have already discussed, the "fanficcy" rpf stands distinct from "mainstream" rpf about historical figures etc, similar to the divide between out-of-copyright fanfic and "legitimate" pastiche.
Open Source Movement: Mostly men, getting together online to create software for themselves and others. A lot of interesting and idealistic discussion goes on about A World Without Copyright and "information wants to be free" etc. This seems to be a socially acceptable hobby, at least for someone who has already admitted to being a programmer. Attitudes amongst the community to people who make money off open source software are mixed.
Machinema: Movies made using games engines. An interesting post on the subject from someone who knows way more than me.
Webcomics: I mention this mainly because it's the only sort of writing I do myself. Something I've noticed is that people are interested in meta and helping each other but seem much more interested in self promotion, and pretty much everyone dreams of huge success, whether it be publication, syndication, or their own "Penny Arcade Army".3 We have another of those arbitrary distinctions, between "webcomics which happen to be derivative but noone thinks of them that way" and "fanfic which happen to be in comic form". In between are doujinshi. I made a post about fancomics if you're interested.
There is a lot of awareness amongst comic artists that comics are not taken anywhere near as seriously as books, despite the vast array of well written, thoughtful, interesting comics out there. Like fanfic they're dismissed as juvenile and easy as well as pathetically nerdy. And amongst comics, webcomics and superhero comics are given even less respect.
Unofficial spin-offs for money: The first sort is those made by fans, like t-shirts or fanart. I find it interesting that (with some exceptions) people accept these, and don't get into trouble for selling them, unlike fanfic or fanvids. The second type is tacky attempts to cash in on somethings popularity, like Tijuana Bibles.
The line is not always very clear. And sometimes they're actually better than the...
Official Spin-offs: Other people have already talked about this better than me. But I think it's worth mentioning that, like fanfic, these are generally not respected as a valid form of Artistic Expression and are not thought of in the same way as...
"legitimate" derivative works: You know, like Shakespeare or arthurian legends or "The Wind Done Gone"4 Seen as totally and utterly distinct from fanfic and official spin-offs etc. There's a blurry edge with people like Alan Moore, who largely writes pastiches in the less-than-respected genre of superhero comics (while somehow managing to be incredibly original) and occasionally gets into trouble for writing, say, porn about in-copyright children's characters.
Furries: You've seen the geek heirachy right? As well as the common pariah status there's the uneasy relationship between the people who like the porn and the ones who don't and wish the others would just go away (And everyone else who just wants to get along).
Craft and other "girly" pursuits: My experience: Like webcomics, while there is definitely a culture of helping each other grow into our craft and sharing the squee, there's also a lot of self promotion and attempts at making money. Pretty much every craft community that doesn't explicitely forbid it becomes filled with ads eg claymaker (not the worst, just one I'm on). There isn't the embarrassment associated with fanfic or even amateur writing/art, since it's a "useful" hobby.
There are some interesting intersections with craft and fannishness. A brief search of lj found me social groups of crafters who happen to be fans, the craft equivalent of fanart and original craft inspired by books. I wonder if there's communities of people making original art/writing inspired by, but not based on, other people's work?
Other gatherings of female fans or women in general: I come from a small city, but have noticed that the feminist fan social group here has a lot of overlap and similarities with fanficcers. And at it's worst online fandom reminds me of my all girls highschool :) I'd be curious to hear about Wiscon.
Any others? Anyone who knows more than me about any of these (ie, all of you :)) have anything to add?
1) I have a block against using the word "fandom" to mean just this bit of it, since most of my fannishness doesn't involve fanfic etc
2) The prude within is making me point out this is a disinterested question, I have no interest in porn myself except as grist for intellectual discussion :)
3) That is, having so many fans that you can run a convention or crash servers when you link to them.
4) A book I have only ever heard mentioned in the context of it's relation to fanfic :)
Oh, and just so you all know (especially if I get metafandomed again) I try to answer all my email but I am slooooow. I've been adding edits to fix my more egrarious errors as I go.
EDIT: something I am also interested in, but have totally ignored becuase I know so little about it, is the way attitudes and laws vary from country to country. Feel free to talk about it anyway :)