So many movements in art/literary history are defined solely by a small group of friends (usually male, let us not forget, and often white and wealthy) fucking off to the countryside (or whatever enclave best suited them) and doing the art that compelled them, and to hell with what the establishment thought.
What, then, must we make of fannish culture, which is defined by thousands, if not millions of persons (taken in total, over the years) devoting themselves to the act of creating fanworks – including, but not limited to art, fiction, poetry, videos, crafts, earnest metatextual examinations and silly alike – with as little regard for the wholly-arbitrary legal conventions of copyright as the impressionists had for the conventions laid down by the French academic art community?
It is my firm belief that, when history looks back, fandom culture may well register as significantly as Impressionism or any other such cultural movement.
What we must fear, then, is not what the public thinks of us, but the faces in our ranks that the establishment chooses to elevate. E.L. James is our ambassador, as far as outsiders understand – but she capitulated to standards and washed away the roots of her work. So is Cassandra Cla[i]re, the writer who initially earned her readers (through means foul or fair, depending on who you ask) in fandom, and carried them with her across the divide between ‘derivative’ and ‘legitimate’ work.
And what, then, have they produced? Romance and YA, both categories easily dismissed. Say what you will about their quality, but those voices that the establishment ‘permits’ within their ranks are also – by ‘crazy random happenstance’ – those easily consigned to ‘lesser’ genres. Even Naomi N, the patron saint of the OTW [Organization for Transformative Works – ed.], can be dismissed as a ‘fantasy’ writer.
Just so, it becomes that easy to dismiss fanwork itself, if this is the ‘best’ that can be skimmed from our ranks. And lo, with some digging, an enterprising mind can find the infighting within our own ranks about whether these writers ‘deserve’ such canonization by the mainstream, making them all the easier to dismiss as startling aberrations!
I do not argue that romance, or fantasy, or YA lit cannot be as powerful as ‘mainstream’ literature, just that the same establishment that depends on and upholds copyright for its own ends is also the establishment that is in charge of deciding whether or not a piece is considered ‘serious’ literature.
What the reasonable voices among us must do, then, is take advantage of these ‘ambassadors’ as opportunities to engage those around us in conversation about fanwork. Love them or loathe them, they are the fine point behind which we can become the wedge, the lever. And the full weight of the ensuing conversations – the nature of copyright law; DRM; the privilege differential among countries, races, classes, genders in both accessing media and in creating/distributing their own; the dismissal of minority voices when they discuss their own sexuality (see again: the barely-veiled sneering at 50 Shades as ‘mommy porn’); and so on – is staggering once you even begin to unpack it.
Fandom may well got down in the history books: whether as a footnote and a punchline or a cultural revolution is up to us.
That’s the scary bit, innit?
“This is Why I Treat Fandom Like It’s Important (Because It Is)” ©saathi1013, originally posted on Dec. 26, 2012