Back in February (wow, how is it even March already?), I lurked on a bunch of meta about the fallout from a university course about fanfiction. Most fans in in the discussion seemed to take some form of the "fannish works cannot be divorced from their fannish context" argument for granted (though there was certainly plenty of opposition to that take as well), and one of those fans was ivyblossom
, who had (among other things
) the following to say:
Our work is not for you. I know this one is hard to understand. If someone’s written a story, or otherwise created art, surely that’s for the whole world. Surely we want everyone to see it, like any other novel or piece of work. You need to stop thinking that way. Fandom doesn’t create work for the whole world. It creates work for a specific community, and that community has expectations, norms, jargon, customs, traditions, ethical rules, and structures that you don’t yet understand.
If you’re a fan of “alternative” and bluegrass anti-folk music and you listen to rap for the first time and are like, wow, this isn’t music, this sucks! you already know you’re being an asshole for judging something you have failed to explore fairly on its own terms. It’s not that different when you turn your eyes to fanworks. Before you can judge us, you need to understand where we’re coming from, what our own strictures are, and what we’re trying to achieve. Don’t barge in and tell people what you think they could do better. You don’t even understand what we’re doing in the first place, okay?
This part of ivyblossom
's post has been going around and around in my head ever since then, and I've been thinking about the extent to which the "our work is not for you" tenet holds true for me (since my approach to fandom and fanfiction is often rather different from the approaches that are held up as "typical"). And the verdict is: it turns out it actually does hold somewhat true...more so than I might have expected at first.
I mean, on the one hand, there are plenty of ways in which this clearly does not
hold true for me. For one, I am not at all the sort of fan who looks at, say, a mainstream article about yuletide that links to fanworks, and thinks "oh my god, that is such an awful thing to do!" (I am instead the sort of fan who gets a little wistful that my own story wasn't one of the ones linked to *g*). For another, I've never been terribly enthusiastic about many of the standard fannish expectations, norms, bits of jargon, etc., and so they don't really apply to my stories. And for yet another, I've always encouraged my non-fannish friends and relatives to read my stories once they have expressed an interest in doing so, and I've never felt a need to explain any sort of surrounding fannish context for those stories first (beyond "have you seen the show/read the book it's based on? okay, good, that's important!").
And yet when I think about the sentence "fandom doesn't create work for the whole world," I have to say that statement holds true for me as well. Example: I live in total irrational fear
that people I work with will find out that I write fanfiction, track it down, and read some of it. And you can attribute this in part to me being in a profession that tends to think that if you're not either working or sleeping or spending time with your family, you're slacking off (I am incidentally currently thumbing my nose at this tenet of my profession by sitting in my office while writing up this post: ha-ha, take that!
), but I think it probably has at least as much to do with the fact that I know many of the people I work with would read what I write and not get
it at all. As things stand currently, you don't have to be a participant in organized fandom to read my stories, but you have to at least know enough about organized fandom to find
them: you have to follow a link from my journal, or know (mostly fannish) people who can recommend them to you, or know about the Archive of our Own and use the search tools to find them that way. And those gatekeeping mechanisms make it much more likely that the people who do come across it will be the kinds of people who, as ivyblossom
says, "know what I'm doing in the first place." Even in the case of a mainstream journalism article about yuletide, there would be some
basic form of gatekeeping mechanism through the topic of the article (which is why that idea doesn't bother me). If one of my colleagues were to send a URL to another and attach my name to it, though, without any sort of intentionality behind seeking it out in the first place...ugh, that very idea just horrifies me (and not at all
because I'm embarrassed by anything I've written, because I'm not).
I guess what it comes down to is that while I don't really write "for fandom," I do write for a certain type of reader
: the sort of person who gets something out of thinking about a television show, book, or film long after they've stopped watching or reading it, and who prefers to conceive of and talk about the characters in those source texts as full-fledged people with rich internal lives. If you are the kind of person who takes said television shows, books, or films much less seriously than that, you are very unlikely to find my fanfiction worth reading, and there is at least some chance that you might find it weird and off-putting. Fandom is where I've found an audience for what I write, so clearly there are plenty of readers like that in that community. It's clear to me, though, that there are lots of people who participate in organised fandom who are not
readers like that, and it's also clear to me that there are people outside of organised fandom who are
readers like that. So for me, the issue isn't that my work needs to be read within its fannish context, but that my work needs to be read by...the sorts of people who will appreciate the sort of thing that it is? And at the moment, this means the fannish context is important because it works as a gatekeeping mechanism that keeps away most of the kinds of people who won't tend to get it. (It unfortunately also probably keeps away a lot of people who would
tend to get it, but hey, I never said it was a perfect
To bring things back around to the "fannish studies" course that was the original topic of the discussion I lurked on, then: when I asked myself if I would have been upset by one of my
stories being included in that syllabus, my answer was both yes and no, with a tilting toward yes. On the "no" side is my knee-jerk "moar readers yay!" reaction, but I think that's more than drowned out by a real distaste for the idea that these people would have to read my story in order to get course credit (ugh) and the fact that they were required to leave comments
in order to get that credit as well (double ugh). I enjoy being read, so I'd always love to get more eyes on my stories, but if the cost of that is a whole bunch of people reading it who won't be able to wrap their minds around why I might want to write something like that in the first place, I'd much rather languish in obscurity!