Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water – fighting mob mentality in fandom

July 29th, 2009 by sidewinder Leave a reply »

Metamobs can be hazardous to fandom. Particularly when they don’t get their facts straight before launching into attack mode.

A recent example of this? The attempted lynching of Doctor Beth which nearly turned into an entire anti-fanzine crusade in some circles.

See, Doctor Beth sells used media fanzines. She sells them on ebay. She sells a lot of them, and at rather hefty markup (but hey, have you ever tried to run an ebay store? Those fees are pretty steep. You’ve got to sell things at good prices to make any money at all doing so.) I’ve seen her in action at MediaWest: she’ll look for people unloading large collections of old ‘zines in room sales and in the dealer’s room, try to haggle them down to buy the whole lot at once at a bargain price, only to turn around and sell them on ebay.

Is that proper fannish etiquette? Well, everyone may feel differently about that. But it’s not anything illegal (leaving aside the questionable legality of fanzines as an issue for now. She’s not publishing them. She’s selling them as collectibles for specific fandoms). She’s buying what she believes to be genuine, original copies of fanzines and looking to resell them elsewhere on a market where there may be limited supply, and more demand. Not any different than running a used bookstore, is it?

Problem is, not everyone selling used ‘zines at MediaWest or elsewhere is always on the up-and-up themselves with what they’re selling. Despite rules about not allowing the sale of bootleg zines at the con, some people still do – not in large quantities, perhaps, but here and there. Someone might have borrowed and made a private copy of a hard-to-find/out-of-print ‘zine for themselves in the past. Many people print out and may even nicely bind copies of their favorite stories for their own personal reading and enjoyment. Months or years later, they may no longer want them and feel, “well, I paid for the ink and paper to print this, let me try to get a couple bucks back for it” and throw some of those home printing jobs in among their genuine ‘zines to resell. Or they may give those print-outs along with their ‘zines to a friend going to the con, to try to sell for them, and that friend may have no idea which are “real” ‘zines vs. not.

Stuff happens. However it happens. End result, Doctor Beth ends up with hundreds of genuine fanzines to resell – along with a couple “fake” or “unauthorized” ones in the batch. Not a big deal – until the author of one of those stories who never authorized its publication in a ‘zine stumbles across their story for sale on ebay.

Naturally, said fan has reason to be upset. The problem comes when the news begins to spread through the fandom blogosphere. A statement that “One of the authors on my flist discovered an ebay listing for her work printed, bound and listed as a ‘fanzine’ without her knowledge” soon becomes twisted as it is passed and reprinted, rephrased, and a mob called to action against this great injustice! Soon it becomes a cut-and-paste message stating firmly, “it looks like everything doctor_beth2000 is selling is stolen, printed and put in a cheap binder with fanart without the knowledge or permission of the writer or artist.”

But it doesn’t end at that. The enraged mob decides that they must take action on their own beyond spreading a warning: they must attack the offender directly. Report Doctor Beth to ebay for copyright violation! “And don’t stop there,” argue those who, in this internet age of fandom, have issues with the publication of fan-fiction in ‘zines sold for money, period. “Let’s report other fanzine sellers on ebay! Whether they’re the publishers themselves! It’s wrong to sell fiction for money no matter what! In fact, no one publishes fan-fiction zines anymore, so they must all be bootlegs! Get ‘em all!”

One or two people try to spread a voice of calm. Doctor Beth removes three – three out of 700! – listings, which turned out that yep, they were private copies of stories never meant to be sold or resold. People are asked to revise their statements of outrage and accusations about what Doctor Beth was doing. Many do, some don’t. Some are rather passive-aggressive about it, either only striking through their accusations or adding an “ETA” after them instead of removing them completely or making a new follow-up post to retract what they’d said earlier.

Of course, the damage is done already no matter what. Doctor Beth has been labeled a wrongdoer in fandom; the viral warning spread like rapid fire in a way that retractions of the attacks against her never will (because apologies about misinformation never are as much of a “fun” bandwagon to jump on, are they?) This isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone in fandom targeted like this, and I have no doubts it will be far from the last time, either.

Should Doctor Beth been more careful about what she’s selling? Perhaps. There are plenty of resources out there to verify the origins and authenticity of fanzines, and they should be utilized by anyone who may have reason to doubt the origins of a publication they come across. FanHistory’s Fanzine Category indexes thousands of fanzine titles by genre and fandom. There is also a useful resource list here of fandom-specific ‘zine indexes.

At the same time, though, perhaps fans can be more careful and at least try to think calmly for a moment before joining a mob attack. Make sure you’ve got the facts straight about a situation; make sure the person or persons making the accusations are being honest and are trustworthy, and not working on their own questionable agenda in leading an attack; make sure the accused has had some chance to respond and correct a situation first. Otherwise there is little to be gained except potentially aiding in the spread of misinformation and damaging another’s reputation in fandom – or fandom as a whole.

  • Reminds me of a line I read from a book today about the problems in telling history in this era: Historians are sometimes leery of doing it, leery of telling history in a jargon free way to make history accessible to the masses (because of a need to be like their peers in the social sciences) and instead are often conceding the ground of documenting history to politicians and others with agendas who have specific interests in perverting history.

    Fandom has this happen a fair amount: People pervert the history and certain events to serve their own agendas in fandom. This feels like just another example...

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