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Fri, May. 18th, 2007, 09:03 pm
alias_sqbr: What are the similarities and differences between fanfic and other similar communities?

Partly as a result of reading cupidsbow's essay on Why Fanfic makes us poor, I have been pondering the similarities and differences between fanfic and other creative groups. I'm involved in a couple myself and apart from a few references here and there in other discussions noone seems to be exploring the comparisons in much depth.

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:

  • writing
  • done mainly by women
  • free
  • often considered illegal (or at least in a worryingly grey area)
  • derivative
  • online
  • 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 :)

Fri, May. 18th, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC)

I happen to know quite a few male fanfiction writers. I think female writers are still the majority, but I keep running into more and more men who write fanfiction.
Particularly gay men who are writing male/male fanfiction. I think that goes directly to one of the reasons fanfiction exists, though. If you can't find what you're looking for in mainstream fiction or in the sources you're deriving your fanfiction from, you tend to want to write it yourself.
There seems to be a dearth of good romantic/erotic male/male professional fiction out there; compared to other genres, anyway.

Fri, May. 18th, 2007 11:39 pm (UTC)

Crap. I was pondering this post this morning before checking my email and thought "Argh, forgot to add the thing about male fanfic writers, what's the bet that's the first response I get" *rolls eyes at self*

I am actually quite interested in their POV, especially the way guys view slash. As well as gay guys reading/writing m/m you also have straight ones reading/writing f/f. And lots of lesbians writing m/m etc and so on ...so it ties in interestingly with both gender and sexuality.
(Deleted comment)

Fri, May. 18th, 2007 02:21 pm (UTC)

Goodness, yes.

And also, some technique/craft-discussion type communities for it, especially for traditional methods (most of the discussion/how-to I see is for artists working in digital mediums.)
(Deleted comment)

Fri, May. 18th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)

Are there communities of women writing non-fanfic porn together?

Oh yes. They even call themselves 'slashers' when it is m/m. 'Original slash' is a fairly common genre. The communities behave in exactly the same way as fandom based writers, with all he conventions of betas, feedback, mailing lists etc. they just write original characters.

Fri, May. 18th, 2007 11:45 pm (UTC)

Are all all ex-slashers doing original slash on the side, or is it a separate but related community with it's own momentum and history? I suppose yoai fits that description *realises I was going to do a bit about non-western fandom and forgot. Crud*

Fri, May. 18th, 2007 07:57 pm (UTC)

(reposted to fix the coding)

You might want to read cesperanza's essay on the question of legality, here.

I don't see a lot of essays discussing, say, vids in the context of modern cinema or the postmodern symbolism of photo manips.

But most of the meta about fannish activity, of which fic is the biggest, doesn't address it in the context of modern literature, either, does it? Not the meta I read, at any rate. It's more about the subculture represented by writers and readers of fanfic and how that plays both for and against the cultural production/consumption of popular narratives. Where content is considered, it's usually against the backdrop of cultural narratives, at least implicitly, it seems to me.

The other thing about the LJ world of fanfic, at any rate, is that there's an ethos of exchange that goes beyond playing off each others' works to encompass the giving and receiving of gifts. The fic is not only "free," it's a contribution to a community that in return prompts other contributions. Many in the community see a connection between this kind of exchange and the female-dominant nature of the space. That's one of the reasons for the very negative reaction hereabouts to the FanLib intrusion, I believe.

The vidding community is indeed extremely self-aware and productive of discussion and debate about its history, its place in the culture and its practices, as well as its part in the copyright wars, isn't it? See the community veni_vidi_vids, and the commentary and products coming out of the annual ViVidCon gathering. In a lot of ways it seems much more organized and self-aware than the fic community, which isn't at all coherent. So it appears to me, anyway, as a non-vidder with vidder friends-of-friends.

Fri, May. 18th, 2007 10:42 pm (UTC)

In rather ironic timing, apparently copyright is in the news again. A proposal called the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007 would:

Criminalize "attempting" to infringe copyright. Federal law currently punishes not-for-profit copyright infringement with between 1 and 10 years in prison, but there has to be actual infringement that takes place. The IPPA would eliminate that requirement and Increase penalties for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anticircumvention regulations. Criminal violations are currently punished by jail times of up to 10 years and fines of up to $1 million. The IPPA would add forfeiture penalties.

Fri, May. 18th, 2007 11:49 pm (UTC)

Well, the "Illegal/Grey Area" thing varies from country to country, I think. And even then it seems to be contradictory in places. Like how doujinshi is sold openly in Japan, yet there's that case a few years ago of someone being hauled off to jail for a Pokemon dj (How did that end, anyway? I'm even IN the fandom and I haven't heard about it in years).

Tue, May. 22nd, 2007 01:55 am (UTC)

Yes, I think fanfic is definitely in one of those annoying spaces between what the law says and what the law does. I keep hoping copyright law (everywhere, but especially in america since it's american companies who own most of the IP) will be made less restricitive and more consistent, so everyone knows where they stand and is in a position to openly celebrate all the great derivative creativity out there, but I'm not holding my breath.

Sat, May. 19th, 2007 01:50 am (UTC)

Just wanted to point out that in the zine days, most fanfic was of the "want more" variety--that is, fans wanting more stories about the characters and settings they'd enjoyed on tv/in the movies. So a lot of stories were of the "further adventures" type; or "what happened next?" or "what if?" Mostly plot and character driven, some 'shipping (although that term hadn't come into use...)

Tue, May. 22nd, 2007 01:55 am (UTC)

Interesting, I wonder what caused the change?

Sat, May. 19th, 2007 02:30 am (UTC)

Hmmm, let me go into this for awhile. On the fanfic properties
* writing
- That's a given - but it also brings into question if fanfic is a word-only medium. I've seen RP, radio-style plays, etc. Perhaps literary/verbal. Yes, I may be quibbling, but a fan-made video or comic - is that fanfic?

* done mainly by women
- I find fandom skews female. I dont know if the percentage OF genders writing is different.

* free
- A given.

* often considered illegal (or at least in a worryingly grey area)
- Debatable.

* derivative
- Also debatable. It is based on things not created by the creator, yes, but I think the term derivative may be too negative. Also this isn't very distinctive - RPGs are derivative in some cases.

* online
- So much else is online, this category is meaningless, or will be in ten years.

* created as part of a community of people who all discuss and play off each others work
- Not always.

* pornographic/romantic or at least character driven
- Well you can have non-character driven porn, trust me ;) But no, I'd say that's not distinct. Again there's a skew (hey, we write what we like), but this isn't distinct, and you've conflated several things.

Oddly, I find myself thinking that Fandom Product really has to be seen as being along various continumns. For instance, you can have a written fanfic, with characterization, but one is highly continuity-driven (and thus derivative), and another is an alternate universe. This latter trait makes them very different in a way.

Sat, May. 19th, 2007 06:24 am (UTC)

The best consideration of how to consider the definition of fanfic, that I have ever seen, is this:
Azdak: Fanfic as a 'fuzzy' category

Sat, May. 19th, 2007 04:47 am (UTC)

There's a bunch of plot-driven ones out there, but in general, I'd say character-driven is the norm. Which I can only assume is what you meant and I'm just talking to talk.

Tue, May. 22nd, 2007 11:34 am (UTC)

Hey, you're agreeing with me, and that's a worthwhile use of pixels in my book :)

Sun, May. 20th, 2007 02:08 pm (UTC)

Here via a newsletter, though I can't remember which one.

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 necessarily. The Jane Austen fandom is as big and thriving as many other fandom. The main difference I see is the relative dearth of slash fanfics. I can count on one hand the number of slash JA fanfic I've seen. But otherwise? Same amount of crap, same amount of porn, same amount of flame wars, relatively high fic posting traffic.

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.
It's bigger than just people who create. There's also all the people who use FLOSS and try to evangelise people around them. FLOSS is also rarely public domain and almost always has some sort of licence on it. Socially acceptable? Maybe, if you consider that the people engaging in that sort of activity are already marginalised by being computer geeks. Certainly it's not more demeaning, but it's mainly because the average Joe can't make a difference between the various sorts of computer programmers ;)

Attitudes amongst the community to people who make money off open source software are mixed.
It depends a lot on how you make money off it. Modifying a FLOSS, closing the source and selling it is an absolute no-no (as well as being contrary to the terms of most GNU/CC/... licences). Selling support services? Completely acceptable; if people can't be arsed to RTFM and make their own research, they deserve to pay for it :P

Tue, May. 22nd, 2007 11:49 am (UTC)

That's my point: the fact that JA fanfic is based on a public domain work doesn't seem to change the nature of the fandom, afaict. (I would put the lack of slash down to them all being het romances :))

Are people more open about selling zines, and is there less of a culture of keeping under the radar? Are there any zines?

Thanks for your input on open source, all I know is by talking to my husband, and he's only been peripherally involved with the odd project here and there. But, um...what's a FLOSS? :)

Actually one difference I noticed is that fanficcers are all about praise and helping each other, while in his experience open source people are rather unforgiving of newbies and the only praise you get is being invited to do high level projects like writing the UNIX kernel. Has that been your experience?

Tue, May. 13th, 2014 10:23 am (UTC)

Idea-driven fanfiction does not require original characters.

Tue, May. 13th, 2014 02:04 pm (UTC)

Absolutely! I'm sorry if I came across as saying otherwise. (And I wrote this seven years ago so can't guarantee I agree with everything I thought back then!)