Posts Tagged ‘star wars’

Slash is not gay: Homosexuality, class and fan fiction communities, A historical perspective

January 27th, 2010

I wrote this back in 2006 or so.  It has been on the wiki for a while. When it was first posted, the response was not positive with people asserting that slashfiction was actually gay. Given the recent discussion, I thought it might be worth reposting on Fan History’s blog.

Preface

When I first set out to write this, I had a lot of knowledge about the history of slash, historical attitudes towards slash and anti-slash activities. I knew bits and pieces of the history of GLBT literature in the science fiction community. I had a decent amount of knowledge regarding the literary fan fiction community in parts that never eventually blended with the media fan fiction communities. What I lacked was solid demographic information regarding the composition of fandom and fan fiction communities. It appears that, historically, there have not been serious studies looking into the composition of fan fiction communities in examining race, class and attitudes towards homosexuality. This seems to be a serious oversight from a structuralist perspective. When one is talking about existing fan fiction communities, one should know the attitudes and composition that preceded these in order to fully understand what is happening and what happened. Fan fiction does not exist in a vacuum. It is intrinsically woven into the fabric of popular culture, which is in turn woven into wider cultural practices in the English speaking world. Further research didn’t turn up the answers to the demographic questions I had but it did give insight, changed my views and widened my perspective.

The new knowledge I acquired upset my perspective a bit. It is a bit hard to argue class warfare in fandom when you find that most of fandom, based on various accounts, is middle class and upper class. Fandom and fan fiction communities do not seem to be the domain of the working class… or at least the domain of people who identify with the working class. At best, fandom has middle class culture clashes. These can probably be traced to issues related to class as members have moved from one class to another or perceived themselves as being in the middle class. This middle class culture clash with other parts of the middle class comes across in fan fiction related studies when scholars dismiss, or deem feral, a group of fen who do not meet with their understanding of how fan communities operate. Fan fiction communities have never been truly homogenous in composition; they have roots in disparate communities of music, sports, science fiction, traditional literary circles, the cult of celebrity, television and more. Each of these communities has its own communities that fill certain cultural and personal needs for members of the middle and upper classes.

Which leads me to writing not the article I thought I was going to write, but rather writing a more in depth article discussing class, culture, slash, and homosexuality from a historical perspective. Given previous situations in fandom, it is bitingly aware that fan fiction communities do not have a universal definition of what it means to be homosexual, gay, lesbian or transgendered, and many people commenting on the issue compound the problem by writing from a straight, white perspective. As such, this article needs to define gay, lesbian and homosexual before a serious discussion of the topic can be undertaken. According to several sources, definition is a big problem for many GLBT historians. Just defining what these terms mean can take up the major part of an article on this topic. To ease this problem and give a perspective, the three terms, gay, lesbian and homosexual, are used interchangeably in this piece. The understood definition is based definitions read elsewhere and ones found below:

Gay is used as an adjective to describe sexual orientation (attraction, preference, or inclination) and is usually chosen instead of homosexual as an identity-label.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay)
gay (gay) n. Term used to describe a man who is attracted to other men. Also overextended to describe women who are attracted to other women. :::(http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Cafe/1017/lexicon.html#gay)
Gay – The term applied to a person (especially a man) who is emotionally and sexually attracted to members of the same sex. In some cases, the term is applied to people who have same-sex sexual relations even if they do not identify themselves as gay (“He’s gay, he just can’t admit it”). On the other had, people may be said to be gay whether or not they have sexual relations with a member of the same sex (“I was always gay, I just never did anything about it”). The most specific definition reserves this term for those who identify themselves as gay and as members of the gay community. Traditionally, “gay” has been the generic term to refer to both women and men. However, it has also been used to refer to men only (as the word “man” has been used to refer to us all). Because this generic use makes women invisible, the current preference in much of the LGB community is for the term “gay” to refer to gay men (often “gay men” or “gay males” is used to further clarify the meaning of the term), and “lesbians” to refer to women. This position is shared by the America Psychological Association. (http://safezone.georgetown.edu/sz4-1.html)
Gay 2. A man whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is to other men. He may have sex with men currently or may have had sex with men in the past. A smaller number of gay men may never have had sex with another man for many reasons such as age, societal pressures, lack of opportunity or fear of discrimination, but nonetheless realize that their sexual attraction is mainly to other men. It is important to note that some men who have sex with other men, sometimes exclusively, may not call themselves gay. (http://principles.ucdavis.edu/glossary.html)
Homosexual: Individual with a primary sexual and affectional orientation or emotional attraction toward persons of the same sex. Male homosexuals are often referred to as “gay,” whereas female homosexuals are referred to as “lesbians.” Historically, the psychologically appropriate and sensitive term to identify individuals who were primarily sexually aroused by others of the same sex. (http://principles.ucdavis.edu/glossary.html)
LBGT abbv. lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered.
(http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Cafe/1017/lexicon.html)
lesbian (lehz’-bee-ehn) n. A gay female.
(http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Cafe/1017/lexicon.html#lesbian)
Lesbian – A woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other women. The term comes from the isle of Lesbos, where the poet, Sappho, established a community of women in the 7th century BC. Much of Sappho’s poetry spoke of love for women. Currently, the term lesbian is popular in many segments of the LGB community, and is the term deemed appropriate by the APA to designate homosexual women. It is preferred as a term that makes women clearly visible in LGB issues, acknowledging that lesbian issues are not entirely the same as gay men’s issues. However, some members of the LGB community do not prefer this term. Some believe it is too political and may be divisive (why separate ourselves from gay men?). Others feel that it sounds too clinical or pathological.
(http://safezone.georgetown.edu/sz4-1.html)
queer (kweer) n. adj. One who is LBGT. (Can be derogatory if used by a non-queer.)
(http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Cafe/1017/lexicon.html)
Queer: Once known as a derogatory term for homosexual, Queer was reclaimed by lesbian, gay, and bisexual activist in the 1980′s as a proud name for themselves. Queer blurs both gender and sexual orientation and is regarded as more inclusive of difference than lesbian or gay.
(http://www.number-one-adult-sexual-health-terms-advisor.com/queerterms.htm)
Queer: The precise definition varies. The term has been used to refer to a gay, lesbian or transsexual. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/sexdefnhr.htm)

Body The word fandom dates back to 1896. 1 Some of the earlier newspaper records use the word in the context of sports and movie fan communities. 2 These references to fans describe fans in ways that could be understood as middle and upper class. They are described as intelligent, articulate and well read. They have money to attend movies and buy newspapers on a regular basis. Fandom members are affluent enough to be expected to show up at events with their cars, in an era when a car was a luxury. The sports and literary 3 fandoms of that pre-World War II era were filled with men. The movie fandom was filled with women. These fandom roles were class and gender appropriate for their era.

And thus fandom was off and running in the modern context. It starts off as the domain of the middle class with members meeting appropriate gender related roles. Mass media depictions and scholarly articles did not infer an infusion of the working class in fandom. This is a period where labor law reforms 4 have not yet taken place, where the working class have limited leisure time and limited money to spend on leisure activities.

During this period, homosexuality was absent, based on current sources, from the limited fannish discussion taking place. Culturally, it would not have been tolerated. In the United States, it would have upset traditional gender roles. In the United Kingdom, it would have threatened nationalistic sentiments. (King) Bringing sex into discussions was still taboo, as the Victorian culture was still firmly in place.

Literature based “fan fiction” communities in the vein of Sherlock Holmes would continue after World War II ended. In England, membership to literary societies producing pastiches would continue to be male dominated with many of the members being titled. These organizations included Baker Street Irregulars and Sherlock Holmes Literary Society. They frequently included some of the best writers and influential society members of the day. Members would meet, socialize, analyze the works and share their pastiches. Some of these pastiches would go on to be published professionally or semi-professionally. The discussions that come down to us sixty years later give no indications that the topics discussed would have really challenged gender roles or sexual taboos present at the time.

Still, World War II had begun to change some perceptions of gender roles for the lower classes. There emerged a “pink collar” work force, with jobs that were working and middle class. Sexism was high and women of this class were on the front lines of the battle to redefine who they were. They were yet to take on the battle of dealing with racial and ethnic divisions still a fundamental part of American life. (May)

It was in this climate that the science fiction and fantasy fandom began to emerge on a much larger, more organized scale. The classics for the genre were being written. Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov were writing. Important magazines that were fundamental to the fandom had been in existence for some time. Active, principle members of this community were generally of the middle and upper classes. A number were politically active or wrote stories that featured social commentaries. Some of these stories spoke to a classless society, an ideal that many science fiction fans in the working class could relate to and which made it difficult for them to associate with their own class. Science fiction at this time could not escape the boys club that other genres and more classic pastiche communities were basing their work on. Estimates put the number of total male participation for the whole fandom at upwards of ninety percent. Women’s involvement was much smaller and opportunities were limited; the ones who wanted to publish frequently had to publishing under male pseudonyms in order to find a publisher for novels or short stories. Male homosexuality, while heard of in the fandom in the era right after the end of the World War II, was frowned upon and open homosexuality could close every door to publishing for fear of alienating audiences who did not want to read homosexual content, nor read works by known homosexuals.

According to John Fiske, the role of the audience was reconceptualized as popular culture began to take shape and form in a commercial form at the end of World War II. It brought with it such things as professional wrestling with a regular audience that trended more female than male. Fiske cites sources which put the female audience at 60% attendance of live events and roughly ninety percent of the audience for televised audience. Wrestling was helped in a large part by television, a technology being embraced by the middle class, and by live performances at venues such as Comiskey Park and Madison Square Garden. Like music fen that were to follow them and science fiction fen operating during the same time period, this group of fen was actively producing fan created material and fanzines. Fiske notes that among the things they were creating were poems, based on the wrestling they were watching. They were writing stories. They were creating fanzines. There is nothing to suggest the presence of homosexual content or using fanzines to propagate discussion of that issue, to discuss gender roles, poverty, race or class.
As the 1950s ended and the 1960s began, a turbulent era was set to begin. There was the civil rights movement, class issues, feminist issues and issues relating to sexuality, orientation and gender. 5 1960 starts this era off with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1960, signed by Eisenhower. The battle of the sexes has fuel added to it in 1960 when the birth control pill went on sale in 1960 in the United States. Both of these events would benefit people of all classes but the group who felt the greatest impact was American working class women and minorities. The English speaking world is about to be rocked when in 1960, Brian Epstein discovered the Beatles. In 1961, states like Illinois begin to decriminalize sodomy. In 1963, the first gay rights demonstration took place in the United States. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty and signed the US Civil Rights Act. That same year, race riots took place in Philadelphia. In 1965, Malcolm X was killed and more American troops were sent to Vietnam as bombing of the country continued. Race riots continued and protests against the Vietnam war escalated. In 1966, the first gay student organization was founded.

It was in this climate that science fiction became a greater part of the fabric of American popular culture. In the science fiction community, several of the bigger, more well known authors would venture into areas which explored human sexuality. This included Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, published in 1961. (Wikipedia) This was viewed as pushing the envelope. Still, openly gay authors who were not classic were finding it hard to get published their work, explicit homosexual content or not. The audience for the material had an increasingly working class audience in terms of income but in striving to meet that utopian ideal, did not identify that way. This trend of class identification would continue into the future. While much of the content continued to espouse utopian ideals and had begun to look at issues relating to women’s rights and gender, it was still a small, minority voice which lacked central figures and organizational support. Given the lack of organizational support in the wider GLBT community, that this was the case is not at all surprising.

The lack of a GLBT contingent is not surprising. The middle class, which made up a large component of the science fiction community, had been traditionally hostile towards this community. Those with jobs or an income that would place them in the working class from the science fiction community were identifying as middle class. Discussions with fans from that era suggest that they were also willing to borrow values from the middle class as part of their perceived assimilation into that class. Science fiction, while being out there on the forefront of political issues, was not that way in addressing private morality. The working class did not identify with the genre if they wanted to keep their class identification. The upper class at that time only resented homosexuals and Jews for their positions of power in terms of defining creativity and signally what they felt might be a new and threatening creative class.

This was the stage that was set for the Star Trek fandom and fan fiction community which grew out of the science fiction fandom. 6

Before Star Trek aired in 1967, the Beatles made their American debut and on February 7, 1964, they arrived in New York City for their first American tour. (Whelan) According to Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs in their essay “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” this marked “the first mass outburst of the sixties to feature women – in this case girls, who would not reach full adulthood until the seventies and the emergence of a genuinely political movement for women’s liberation.” This group was composed of primarily middle class, white teenagers. The Beatles were rejected early by many adults for due to the group member’s long hair and sexually explicit lyrics. African American teenage girls of all classes were not fans of the group on a large scale, preferring music like jazz, the blues and other music coming out of their own communities. (Ehrenreich) This group of fans would, like other groups of fans before them, create their own fan products. This included fanzines. The fannish oral tradition alive today is implicit in their being fictional stories about band members being circulated during the early years of the band’s history. This is substantiated by Ehrenreich, Hess and Jacob’s essay which says such things as “girls exchanged Beatle magazines or cards, and gathered to speculate obsessively on the details and nuances of Beatle life.”

But what about homosexuality? The Beatles were at the forefront for many white, middle class teenage girls in helping them redefine their own definition of sexuality and their own definitions of what it meant to be female. (Ehrenreich) This was taking place in an era where there was that increased debate on subjects like “birth, a woman’s obligation to society, and conception, bringing with it all of the bitterness and acrimony that have long surrounded these issues, beginning with perhaps the most obvious one of them all — Sexism.” (Rowland) Legal gender differences between men and women were beginning to fall. (Rowland) For young fans of the Beatles, popular culture was helping them by giving them real examples of people challenging American perceptions of gender. Real men just did not have long hair back then. The traditional middle class reacted to some of these changing gender roles, the “feminizing” of men by questioning a person’s sexuality or clearly labeling them homosexual. During this period, homosexuality was being portrayed to the middle class, with some help from working class homosexuals who were seeking to gain equal rights to practice certain sex acts, as promiscuous, with homosexuals having loads and loads of sex, of being homosexuals being obsessed with sex and not participating in long term monogamous relationships. Beatles fen were discussing these things, liking the fact that these traditional gender roles were being upset. They found the Beatles sexy. At the same time, these fen, like their fellow fen forty years later, fantasized about being involved with a member of the band. The average fan knew this wasn’t possible. The fans resented when a member of the band was involved with other women. They did not want to see that happen. It is highly probable, that given this and the fact that they were writing fictional stories featuring the Beatles, that some of the Beatles were written as homosexual if only as a way to ensure that the object of the fan’s lust, since they could not be hers, would never belong to another female fan.

The Beatles fandom is thus underway and the mid to late 1960s start. Several shows are on television for the first time that will spawn fandoms and fan fiction communities that will be the larger fan fiction community almost forty years later. These shows include Man from U.N.C.L.E., Doctor Who, Star Trek and others. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fandom followed the trend of earlier television, media and celebrity based fandoms. The fan club was created one a year after the show was on the air. That fandom and the Doctor Who fannish community were both active in writing drawerfics, fan fiction circulated by hand with a tiny circulation that was not published in a zine. Demographic information pertaining to class, race and gender of these communities at this time is not accessible. It makes speculating on what was happening in those domains difficult.

So there you have the Star Trek fandom. It first aired on September 8, 1966. By 1967, the Star Trek fandom would produce the first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia. Spockanalia was the first Star Trek fanzine to be produced. It was created by Devra Langsam and Sherna Comerford with a contribution from Dorothy Jones and a letter from Leonard Nimoy. (Verba) Later editions would contain examples of fan fiction. The early creation of fanzines by this community is directly attributable to the experience of early Star Trek fen involvement in the science fiction fandom. From that community, they pulled publishing practices, convention hosting, organizational skills and more. Star Trek fans identified class wise and are portrayed in historical recountings the same way that members of the science fiction fandom did. The only major difference between the two is the overwhelming prevalence of women in the Star Trek fandom, with men as a clear minority.

Star Trek, like parts of the genre from which it sprung, offered various types of political and social commentary. Geraghty in “Creating and Comparing Myth in Twentieth-Century Science Fiction: “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”" puts the thrust of the original series’ political message as one supporting the United Status’s manifest destiny and westward expansion. Geraghty also claims that Star Trek sometimes falls prey to “perpetuating the “white only” myth.” Some episodes such as “Return of the Archons” argue against things like the drug culture, a culture with a large representation coming from the working class. Other episodes such as “Errand of Mercy,” argues Geraghty, are about allegories fighting communism. The Christian Bible is cited as a source of the laws of the Federation by Kirk’s lawyer in the episode “Court-Martial.” (Kreitzer) It is an optimistic view of the United States, promising a future for Americans who were suffering from the pull of various social conflicts and Vietnam that were going on at the time.

None of the above, culturally, points to a Star Trek fan community that would be tolerant, supportive and fostering of GLBT issues. The show itself did not address the issue. The science fiction community, upon which the Star Trek fan fiction community would be built, was not tolerant. There were several hostile elements in terms of getting published and propagating ideas and concepts that could be construed as homofriendly. The nationalistic elements referenced in the show are not that far time wise removed from the nationalistic period which called homosexuality un-American. The Christian Bible’s use as a foundation for law was one of the reasons used to justify discrimination against various classes in American society.

As the 1970s rolled around, events continued to happen. In the United States, environmentalism began to be a cause embraced by parts of the middle class. Women’s rights efforts started to gain more traction with the middle class. Stonewall, which happened in June of 1970, had ignited the gay rights movement but in a way that aggravated some in the middle class as it sometimes portrayed homosexuality as a culture that tolerated promiscuous behavior.
As far flung and separated fandoms entered the 1970s and later the 1980s, three fan fiction communities continued to stick out in fannish memory as documented in interviews, newspaper articles, magazine articles, books, Usenet and mailing lists. These communities include the traditional literary fan fiction, the music fan fiction community and media fan fiction communities. Each would have their own issues, based on their class and gender composition.

Starting in the 1970s and 1980s, there was the anomaly to the traditional middle class and upper class fandom. This anomaly was the punk music community. There were numerous fannish communities based on different punk bands. Most of the membership for these fandoms was working class. These working class fen used their extra money to attend music sessions by their favorite local punk artists. They were male and female. They were misfits. This group of fen used Xerox machines to produce fanzines. Ones like Cometbus frequently included samples of fictional stories about the band. Some of these stories according to fannish lore featured musicians not just written as being involved in same sex sexual couplings but as homosexuals; they were written and coded that way. This was frequently done with the knowledge of the band members involved as many of those fen had access to the artists. While they may not always have supported the material and have actively considered them rubbish, they did not apparently step up and crack down on those materials. The reasoning for this is that music played with those gender issues, those orientation issues, operated on the cultural fringes, with a number of artists in the community being out, out like people in other fandoms could not be. This type of fannish behavior and related attitudes stayed with the community well into the 1990s.
Titled, rich, male, money to spend and an interest in Sherlock Holmes are some ways that the Sherlock Holmes community was characterized historically. This characterization carried into the 1970s. “Elementary Facts of Holmes Fandom” by Bob Cromie appeared in the Chicago Tribune on page 18 of January 12, 1972′s edition. The Sherlock Holmes fandom of that time was characterized by Cromie as having been historically male, with male fen being offended when a female only branch of the Baker Street Irregulars was founded. The men in the article were described as semi-professional writers, obsessed with the works about Sherlock Holmes. The issues of female involvement, of women breaking down doors and trying to enter there space and being resentful of their intrusion, seems to be very characteristic of upper class issues dealing with gender at the time, where trophy wives were still in play and women were supposed to support their men.

In 1974, Diane Marchant sat down, wrote and published a story featuring two characters, gender some what ambiguous and using highly coded language. (Boyd, Langley) The story was titled “A Fragment Out of Time” and it was not until later discussion that the author made it clear that the story featured the Kirk/Spock pairing. The community, through letterzines, reviewzines and discussion at conventions, discussed this material. There was a degree of hostility towards this material. Some of this hostility stemmed from the fact that ew, homosexual content, ew! This was not something people of their class should be writing. It was not something that was traditionally associated with the science fiction fandom. It happened in the same year that the great Star Trek – science fiction schism started. The science fiction community, overwhelming male, felt that Star Trek fen, overwhelming female, would overshadow and marginalize other science fiction being produced at the time. The science fiction community was further annoyed by what they felt was the consistently inferior product distributed by the Star Trek fan fiction community, a community that just the year before had given name to Mary Sue. Making this infusion of Kirk/Spock fan fiction was the fact that some parts of the community started to actively embrace this material and more of appeared in the ensuing years.

But as this material grew, so did resentment. One way to counter this resentment was to remind fen, repeatedly, that they were heterosexual and female. The articles coming out by scholars at that time emphasize that. The husband and wife zine producing duos helped draw attention to that. Fen were also keen on ingraining in other fen the idea that Kirk and Spock were clearly heterosexuals. This was something that was indoctrinated into fen. Kirk and Spock might be involved with each other but that was due to the lack of other options and true love; heterosexual identity remained intact. At the same time that slash was increasing, so was the amount of sexually explicit material. This would lead to a rift in the fandom by 1979, where a number of fen left and joined the Star Wars fandom to avoid this content. This conflict would carry over into other fandoms during the 1980s.

The Starsky and Hutch, like most media fandoms of the 1980s, was mostly middle class in identification. And like most media fandoms, it had its homophobic moments. It also lacked very visibly out and proud gays and lesbians in the community. The early community tried to deter slash or keep it underground out of fear. One example of this dates to 1981 when Code 7 was published. The zine was published anonymously as there was a real fear in the American fan fiction community that the anti-slash component of the fan fiction community would send the material to the producers of the show and create other problems for those slash writers in their real lives. According to me_n_thee, the zine contained the following disclaimer: “This is a privileged and private publication; it was sent to you because you know the value and need for discretion. You are being trusted; if you misuse this trust, you will be harming not only the contributors, but all of S/H fandom. Please keep this zine entirely to yourself! Thank you.” Slash fen in the community felt very threatened by others. They feared fen outings them to their employers and being otherwise harassed. (Boyd)

Going to another fandom, the same demographics of other media fandoms are there: middle class, female and white. The Battlestar Galatica fandom of the same period made it very clear to fen that they might be writing stories with m/m characters but that fen needed to remember, were indoctrinated in the idea that the characters, while being written in m/m relationships, were still fundamentally heterosexual.
The 1980s also saw the start of the backlash against adult material and what was then described as homoerotic material in the Star Wars fandom. 7 The Star Wars fan fiction community was founded shortly after the release of the first movie. The fan fiction community, being built by people with experience from other fannish communities like Star Trek would quickly put out the first stories and fanzines. The first story to arrive on the scene was published in Warped Space or Scuttlebutt. Unlike the Star Trek community’s relationship with Paramount, Lucasfilms Ltd. would be involved and trying to maintain some control on the type of content which appeared, according to Verba, almost from the start. One of the earliest pieces of fan fiction was published this year. According to Langley and Verba, the story was most likely published in Warped Space.

By 1981, the Star Wars m/m situation got to the point where Lucasfilms Ltd. felt they needed to act to protect their interests. The community was primed and this year would be the one remembered. In May, Guardian #3 was published. This fanzine contained two version of a story called “A Slow Boat to Bespin.” One story was by A. E. Zeek. The other story was by B. Wenk. While both of these stories featured heterosexual pairings, Zeek’s story contained material that would, in today’s society, likely garner an R rating. This story was the reason that the publishers of Guardian #3 likely received a cease and desist letter from Maureen Garrett, the first president of the Star Wars fan club. Several other zines during the same period, including ones that had published slashed, received similar cease and desist notices. In response to the demand for clarity on what was acceptable to publish and not publish, Maureen Garrett promised guidelines. None came until October. When they came, they were not viewed as being particularly helpful. The guidelines were nothing more than a statement saying Lucasfilms Ltd. would not tolerate pornography, vulgar material, and material that was excessively violent or gory. (Langley) The net effect of this incident was that it shut down almost all production of slash in the Star Wars community. This created an increase of people from other communities where m/m and f/f was more prevalent but who did not like this material joining the community. Fen who did not leave or who were active in both also began campaigns around this time, trying to convince the powers that be in their fannish communities to crack down on m/m and f/f, like Lucasfilms Ltd. had done.

The Star Wars pornography problem in relation to m/m and f/f comment was probably exacerbated by the working class homosexual community being viewed as one that was, by their nature, promiscuous. The white, female middle class did not associate homosexuality with orientation but rather with sex acts, lots and lots of sex acts. As such anything with m/m or f/f content was not about homosexuality, vis-à-vis orientation, but homosexuality sex acts. It made even fan fiction featuring m/m content and coding sexually suspect because of the relationship that white middle class women came up with that made homosexuality about sex. It was further suspect because of the pains taken by more than a few of these fen to continue to indoctrinate their fellow fen into the idea that the characters, while having gay sex, still had an orientation of heterosexual. The inherent conflict with adult material and homosexual content would not be resolved in the fandom until the early 1990s.

The concept of sexual orientation is a new one. The word homosexual did not enter the English language until 1869, and then it was used in the context of certain sex acts that would happen between two men. (University of Waterloo) Gay meaning homosexual men was first used in the 1920s by gay men. (Harper) The usage of gay “as a noun meaning “a (usually male) homosexual” is attested from 1971.” (Harper) Lesbian is first used relating to homosexual women in 1890. (Harper) Is it any wonder that, given the lateness of these concepts into the Western psyche that it would take media fandom eighteen years after the first Star Trek fan fiction was published and eleven years after the first m/m story was published that a word would be created to describe m/m fan fiction? According to Boyd, Curtin and Langley, slash was not used in the fan fiction community until 1985. 8

When one goes back in time and looks at some of the definitions found based on fan recollections, Usenet and early web definitions, it becomes crystal clear that the word slash meant what fen had understood the concept to mean before a word was informally adopted to describe it. Early definitions of slash defined slash as Kirk/Spock stories, stories about two heterosexual men involved m/m relationship with each other, non-canon pairings. The heterosexual aspect was implicit and understood. Stories written from that period lacked coding to define characters as gay. In fact, such coding of characters as gay would have been a turn off for some readers. Authorial and group intent was clear, indoctrinated, that these characters were heterosexuals who found their one true love or who just happened to sleep with a guy. Slash was clearly was not gay, was not gay literature. And this was understood that way by the community at the time; no one would have confused it for being gay literature for the white, middle class heterosexual women reading it.

Conclusion

Modern fandom dates back to the 1890s. From the outset, fandom was dominated by members who identified as middle class or upper class. For the most part, this was a community that, once media fan fiction communities became dominant, were heavily female. The only real deviations from this pattern included fan fiction communities based on musical groups during the 1970s and 1980s and literary pastiche communities. The values and morality brought by fen into fan fiction communities helped to shape the nature of fan fiction communities. They are one of the primary reasons that slash cannot be a product that could be considered gay, nor a form of gay literature. Given the historical roots of slash as non-gay, it is unlikely that most slash will be considered gay, nor gay literature any time in the near future.9

Footnotes

1 Oxford English Dictionary’s Science Fiction Words Site dates the first usage to “antedating 1896 Washington Post, Oct 10, 1896″

2 References to fandom found in the Chicago Daily Tribune. See References for more specific details as to some of the sources found.

3 There is some credible evidence to suggest that there was a literary community of young, female writers involved in the writing of pastiche based on the work of Jane Austen during this era. This is referenced by Jenkins but was not found in newspaper articles searches for that period.

4 For a timeline of labor in the United States, see A Curriculum of United States Labor History for Teachers found at http://www.kentlaw.edu/ilhs/curricul.htm

5 There are a number of good books which address this topic in various forms. Some of my favorites of the moment include The Boundaries of Her Body, the Troubling History of Women’s Rights in America by Debran Rowland, The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz, Sex Ed: Film, Video, and the Framework of Desire by Robert T. Eberwein, Undeserving Poor by Michael Katz, and American Century: A History of the United States Since 1941 by Walter Lafeber.

6 There is an anecdote repeated in the Star Trek fandom regarding the screening of the pilot at a science fiction convention. Gene Roddenberry was showing the pilot at some convention, premiering it for the first time before an audience whom he hoped would be kind to it and to gauge their feelings on it. He shushed two people talking during the screening. One of those people was Isaac Asimov.

7 An amusing side story detailing what was going on at the time involves Mark Hamill. At the same time that Lucasfilms Ltd. was cracking down on Star Wars erotica, some Han/Luke fan fiction writers kept leaving this material at Hamill’s house.

8 According to Langley in a phone interview in the summer of 2005, this date is subject to some leeway as the date was ascertained by herself and Mary Ellen Curtin going through fanzines in their extensive, personal collections and trying to find the earliest usage. Langley’s date of 1985 is helped as she was a long time participant in fandom and can draw upon her own fannish experiences to put a time frame on the date. When looking through Usenet records from that period of the 1980s, the fact that the word might not have been used till that time is logical. The Kirk/Spock convention of using the slash to denote a romantic pairing was still not standardized until the late 1980s, early 1990s. The word is not used in Star Trek Lives! but has picked up enough usage to be used by Henry Jenkins in 1992. Verba’s discussion in her book, Boldly Writing, uses the word slash in the index but as a see K/S. K&S is used by the Verba to denote Kirk/Spock friendship stories.

9 The issue of heterosexual characters involved in same sex pairings continued well after 1985. Shows like QAF challenged terminology and understood definitions of slash. Could same sex pairings between canonically homosexual characters be gay? The discussion that resulted from that time period was a rather definitive no, it wasn’t slash because the characters were not heterosexual. Demographic studies of fen after 1990 began to show a more sizable GLBT presence in fan fiction communities. By some estimates, the number was as high as thirty percent. In some fandoms like Xena, the number was undoubtedly higher. More stories being written included coded GLBT material but more often than not, the average piece of m/m or f/f slash doesn’t.

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More about Fan History’s fanzine section

June 22nd, 2009

This was an e-mail I sent elsewhere.  I’ve reposted it minus the introduction and the quoted text.


Recently, Fan History received a couple of fanzine cover deletion
requests. We had a policy on the wiki which for fan art was e-mail us
and prove that you’re the artist and we’ll delete the fan art. It was
not very detailed. We’d never really had an issue with this material
where we felt we needed to clarify our policy regarding that. The
deletion requests gave us reason to clarify both our policy in regards
to fanzine related articles and fanart. 1.6.1 Fan art and fanzine covers
<http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Help:Article_deletion#Fan_art_and_fanzin\
e_covers
> is our fanart and fanzine cover policy. 1.7 Fanzine article
deletion request
<http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Help:Article_deletion#Fanzine_article_de\
letion_request
> is our fanzine article deletion policy. Summarizing
them: If you are a fanzine publisher or fanartist, drop us an e-mail and
we’ll delete the cover. In regards to fanzines, if the fanzine is
non-notable, we’ll probably delete it if you can give us a good reason.
We know that many people published them in pre-Internet days before real
name issues were as problematic as they can be now. We’ll try to be as
accomodating as possible.

Fan History has a fair amount of information about fanzines already.
That can be found at http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Category:Fanzines
<http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Category:Fanzines> . There is
probably information about 2,000 fanzines on Fan History. We’re really
proud of our Star Wars
<http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Category:Star_Wars_fanzines> , Star
Trek <http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Category:Star_Trek_fanzines> ,
Forever Knight
<http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Category:Forever_Knight_fanzines> ,
Doctor Who <http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Category:Doctor_Who_fanzines>
, Rat Patrol
<http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Category:Rat_Patrol_fanzines>
sections. Many articles have cover art, publishing histories, summaries
of fan responses to the fanzine, links for more information, etc. What
these articles don’t have and will never have is the complete fanzine in
image format unless we’re given permission to redistribute a zine in
that fashion. In one or two cases, (I’m thinking a Led Zeppelin
drawerfic type zine) we may have extracts of a few pages. We’d argue
these are fair use and if called on them, we would remove them. We’re
just not set up to be a redistributor of fanzines in image format. Our
mission isn’t to do that and we don’t have any intention of doing that.
(And most especially not charging people to make copies. I’ve seen
enough of the discussion on mailing lists regarding the reprinting of
fanzines with out permission to know some people find it repulsive and I
don’t want Fan History associated with that.) Our mission is to
document that these fanzines existed, this is what the cover looked
like, these fandoms were involved with the zine, these people were
involved in the production of this material.

We’d also like to think that for fanzine publishers and authors with
material in fanzines that we’d be useful to you as another place where
you can promote your fanzines. We don’t have a problem with a fanzine
publisher coming in and including links to where you can buy the fanzine
online, what convention the publisher will be at and selling the
fanzine, etc. Commercial links like that, as long as they fit in to the
article and follow our rules <http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Help:Rules>
are more than welcome.

If you have any questions about our deletion policy, our fanzine section
or anything else regarding Fan History, please feel free to e-mail me at
laura@… or one of our admins at support@….
You can also reach us by commenting on the talk page for articles or
categories you have questions for. In fact, we’d almost prefer the
second because if you have questions, some one else might have the same
one and clarifying our policies through the use of talk pages helps out
everyone in fandom. (And it holds us more accountable because our
actions are then part of the public record.)

Thanks for reading.

Sincerely,
Laura

A funny thing happened on the way to my birthday…

May 18th, 2009

…ten years ago today.

I went to see The Phantom Menace.

(OK, technically it was a midnight showing on May 19, the official release date, but you get the idea.)

I hadn’t been planning on going. At least not to a midnight show. While I was a Star Wars fan like any child of the 80s, I’m very allergic to hype, and the massive frenzy around the release of the new film had pretty much left me feeling “meh”. I’d see it when I could, but I wasn’t going to stand in line for hours or days to do so.

But it was my birthday, and I was kind of…depressed. 27 and with nothing planned, no one to spend the day with, grad school was sucking the life out of me and I seem to recall even the weather was shitty. I was running some errands and walked by the old, decrepit-but-beloved Sam Eric theater on Chestnut Street around 3-4pm that afternoon. The marquee proclaimed a midnight showing of the film that night.

“Gotta be sold out, but what the hell,” I thought, and being curious I checked if they had any tickets available. Surprisingly, they did – and no line waiting was necessary.

Score!

I went back home, nursed my morose mood for a few more hours, then went to check out the movie.

Thus began one crazy, crazy chapter in my life.

Now, I’d been involved in “fandom” for a long time by this point (music, tv, what-have-you), but not any kind of fandom in the mega-spotlight. Obscure and weird loves have always been my game, things like The A-Team. Even when I got into big fandoms like Xena, it was on the strange side of the spectrum (Joxer fandom, to be precise. Joxer slash fandom to be even more so. Oh the shame…) Small fandoms. Quiet fandoms. Manageable fandoms.

Then I saw that scene. The one near the end. Qui-Gon’s death scene. Up until that point I’d been happily reveling in just the pretty special effects and grimacing through the typical Star Wars stiff acting and cringe-worthy dialog.

But then Qui-Gon touched Obi-Wan’s face and died and ugh there was my tragic, epic love story for the ages. As Keelywolfe put it so eloquently,

“A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away, George Lucas created Star Wars. And he looked at it and saw that it was good. And all was right in the world. But then, we saw that Obi-Wan doth look upon Qui-Gon with lust, and that Mr. Lucas was not likely to include that in the next movie, so we said screw it and wrote it ourselves, even though we do not make any money off of this. And all was right with the world.”

obihatesani12

I immediately rushed home and posted on, of all places joxerotica, virtually screaming “OMGWTFDIDYOUGUYSSEETHATISTHERESLASHYETOMGOMG!!!!” And a few others there went “OMGOMGOMG!!!!” too, and the very next day, I did a very silly thing.

I created Master and Apprentice over on dear old yahoogroups. And I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Foolish me, I thought it would be a lot like running Joxerotica, or my A-Team groups–some work but nothing too daunting. People started joining up quickly but I figured it was just an initial frenzy after the movie’s release. I set up a little archive on my simplenet web account, manually adding stories as they were posted. It was maybe a couple a day at first. Fun, short stuff–angst pieces and missing scenes, short AU’s to “fix” Qui-Gon’s death, that sort of thing. I had a co-mod from Joxerotica helping me out at first as we set up the archive/list’s basic rules. But then it started growing. And growing. And growing, until it became within a month or two The Fandom That Ate Cincinatti. Slashfen were flocking in from everywhere: Sentinel fandom, Highlander fandom, X-Files fandom. People were even bitching how Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan was “stealing” all the good writers from other fandoms!

It should be noted, too, that there was no small amount of concern about “The Wrath of Lucas” when I started the list and archive. While it may seem laughable today, at the time many fen still remembered his previous actions and stance against those who wrote and published adult–nevermind slash–fiction in the Star Wars universe. And also, there were other fen who would react strongly against those who would do so against George’s wishes, as I would learn firsthand from some of the people I would meet in this fandom such as Bev Lorenstein, who would become one of my dearest friends, and who told me what she went through in publishing Organia in 1982. That said, in my years of involvement in Star Wars fandom, I never received a cease and desist letter from Lucasfilms or had any other contact from them. So perhaps the worries were all for naught…

In any event, by the end of the summer of ’99 I was growing concerned that my little archive just wasn’t going to cut it as a few stories a day were turning into dozens. It was reaching a critical point and I was getting worried about the stability of my archive situation, and my friend Erik came up with a solution.

He could put me up on his own webserver. Register a domain for me–sockiipress.org–and then set up a database program which, although stories would still need to be manually submitted, would make creating story index pages automated, along with allowing for search functions and other cool stuff. sockiipress.org was registered on September 30, 1999 and the archive moved there, which would be its home for the next three years or so, before the archive moved to its own URL, masterapprentice.org, some time after I had left the fandom for good.

But before I get to that part of the story…

Being involved in this fandom from its point of creation through the height of the frenzy was, as I said earlier, a crazy experience. I’d never been involved in such an active fandom before. Never found myself in the Big Name Fan spotlight (though I was no real writer of note in the fandom, just archivist, occasional artist, and “ringleader”, in effect). Was it exciting? Sure! I loved waking up every morning to a emailbox full of new stories. And there was some wonderful fiction being written by some amazing authors. Was the attention thrilling as well? Admittedly, yeah, it was. I went from being the girl into very weird things at conventions like MediaWest and Eclecticon, largely lurking on the sidelines and being ignored, to getting a round of applause at ConneXions in 2000 for the work I’d done on the mailing list and archive. It was an ego boost for certain–but then it also gave me a taste of big fandoms’ ugly side as well, and how fandom can turn on you on the drop of a dime.

First there were scuffles on allowable content. The first one came up over the topic of Chan fic. I lost my co-moderator to the mailing list over this debate and the compromise position on the subject I favored. Real person fic also was broached and lead to some heated arguments until it was banned from archiving. The fandom went through typical growing pains as different subjects and content was being explored, but then our archive was having growing pains, too. Erik’s server was not all that stable, leading to sporadic downtime and a lot of headaches on his end. He put up with a lot helping me out with the site, for someone who wasn’t even in the fandom. At one point, in 2000, he thought it would be a nice idea to burn CD copies of the archive to make available to users through the mailing list. It was welcomed as a good “backup” to the unstable site, and he charged a nominal fee to cover his materials and time — I think it was $7 or so. No one raised a single complaint the first time around with this, and I think he mailed off something like 100-200 copies of the disk.

In 2001, the server difficulties were getting worse. Erik was getting frustrated, and I, myself, was getting a little worn out from listmom and archiving duties. While at this point we had a group of 5-6 assistant archivists, it was still demanding a lot of my time, and my interest in the Qui/Obi was…drifting. By that point I had been distracted by some other Bright Shiny Fandoms — Brimstone in particular. Erik decided to do a second run of the archive disks, at $10, because he was about ready to give up trying to work out a solution for our hosting woes.

That’s when things got ugly. One morning I woke up to several outraged emails from authors who had long been absent from the fandom, demanding that their stories be removed from the archive, not included on the CD, “or else”. Later that day I found out Erik and I were being subjected to ugly accusations of profiting off people’s work, that outrageous things were being said about us all over fandom chat channels (one reason I still avoid “chat” to this day). We defended ourselves and actions while of course agreeing to remove any stories that people did not want included, but were then told, point blank, to “Fuck off” from the community and archive we’d spent all those hours, days, months, years into maintaining.

And we were both only too glad to oblige at that point.

Thankfully, two Loris were ready to help us out. “Lori” took over maintaining the archive and list. “Lorrie” offered us hosting on her own server (for both the archive and sockiipress overall). Eventually I moved to my own hosting service entirely, cutting off completely from my connections to Q/O fandom.

Except, happily enough, ties to some of the wonderful friends I made there, despite all the angst and wank and aggravation. Many of them I am still in touch with today in other fandom communities, fabulous people I will forever thank my involvement in Star Wars fandom for bringing into my life. I learned a lot from my time in the fandom, good and bad, and I definitely would not take those years back for anything. That said, I’m also quite content to be back to lurking around in small and obscure fandoms these days. The pickings might be slim, but the pleasure is rarely overwhelmed by the aggravation.

So happy anniversary, master-apprentice! Our love may have been brief and heated, but when it was good, it was oh, so good…

Bonnaroo? Well, thanks for trying, anyway!

May 14th, 2009

It was a good try, and I thank everyone who helped out with my quest to get to Bonnaroo, but it looks like it wasn’t meant to be.

Radio 104.5‘s voting system was pathetically simple to take advantage of as “email verification” checks are just as easy to abuse as just about any other on-line voting method, and my main competition, “Megan L.”, did a damned intense job of abusing it at the end of the day on May 10.

My hat’s off to her, though if I may snark for a moment, I hope she puts that media pass to better use than might be expected given the photography “skills” evident in her submitted competition photo.

Maybe next time.


In unrelated news, next week there’s a very important anniversary coming up for me to celebrate and contemplate over, and that’s the 10-year anniversary of my launching the Master and Apprentice mailing list and archive for Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon slash. I plan to write up an entry over the weekend looking back on the origins of the archive, the fiction, the “drama”, and everything else as I saw it happen before I left the fandom.

Fanzines galore: 1,600+ fanzines added to Fan History

April 29th, 2009

ROFLCOPTER (purpose) flew on in an created roughly 1,600 articles about fanzines on Fan History. These fanzines represent a number of different communities including soccer, rugby, Rat Patrol, Star Wars, science fiction, Bon Jovi and punk.

This brings the total number of articles we have about fanzines on Fan History to over 2,000. This makes Fan History one of the largest sources of information about Fanzines on the Internet. We’re very excited about that because we love fanzines. Heck, a lot of our early information on the wiki was about fanzines. Why do we love fanzines? Because fanzines give us a peek into fandom’s past, before the Internet was around. They were part of a subculture, an underground culture which helped people connect to part of a larger community that might otherwise not be as accessible. Fanzines provide a record of our history that we can touch. And they are a tradition that continues even now…

When we created these articles, we tried to have some basic information. This included title, fandom, the year the fanzine was published, who the publisher was and the source for this information. As a result, our articles aren’t very comprehensive. That’s really where we need your help. If you know these fandoms and fanzines, please help edit to improve that information to improve on our fanzine stubs. What awards did these zines win? What was their impact on the fan community? Was the zine the first one that appeared in that fan community? Where was it published? What was the size and what was the content? What happened to the fans who produced the zine? Do you have a copy of the zine? Any information you can add would be appreciated.

And if you know of a fanzine that isn’t represented but want to put it on the wiki, copy and paste our fanzine template to your new article, add your information and save the page. If you need any help formatting or creating a new article, let me or another admin know as we’ll happily help you with that.

Can LadySybilla and Russet Noon hang on long enough to change fandom?

April 20th, 2009

I’ve been following the Russet Noon situation with a lot of interest; it’s like the Star Wars book situation meets RDR that’s been crossed with a Harry Potter Lexicon with a bit of CounsinJean mixed in.

I’m really curious how this will turn out. The author of Russet Noon, LadySybilla, has done herself no favors in some regards by using Wikipedia for self promotion, engaging in alleged socketpuppeting and alleged  trying to sell the books behind the scenes to bloggers. This falls pretty much into the realms of what happened to CousinJean and the Star Wars writer. Their actions might have fallen into a legal “gray zone”, but fandom pressure came to bear and both were punished so much by fandom that they largely left the fandom field of battle before they could get sued.

So far in this case, it doesn’t look like LadySybilla has been threatened with legal action. Why? I’m not certain. She might have been and we might not have heard about it. Or the intellectual property owners could be hoping that fandom makes the situation go away, like they did with the CousinJean and the Star Wars book. Or, the intellectual property holders could be scared of LadySybilla having lawyers, like Steve Van der Ark and RDR had at the Harry Potter Lexicon. The last one is the big worry potentially because if LadySybilla has lawyers and is willing to go to court, she could win and then things could become really difficult for the entertainment industry.

If LadySybilla isn’t pushed to take her book off the market by fandom and if she isn’t sue, she could open fandom’s pandora box. The conventional wisdom is that the Twilight fandom is feral where people aren’t grounded in media fandom’s historical traditions. If they see that some one can get away with this, they might be willing to try to do similar. The flood gates might swing wide open with this and fandom could very well change in unexpected ways.

So I’m taking the wait and see approach because this is all fascinating to watch play out and think of what might be if LadySybilla can deal with fandom pressure long enough to get her story published.

Follow up: Most human revised articles on Fan History

April 9th, 2009

The last post was heavy in terms of bot revised edits on Fan History. It is that way because our data collection bots update every day and some have been active since September 2008. This is the last of non-bot, human edited entries on Fan History.

The following data is cached, and was last updated 18:45, 9 April 2009.

Showing below up to 500 results starting with #1.

View (previous 500) (next 500) (20 | 50 | 100 | 250 | 500)

  1. Harry Potter ?(291 revisions)
  2. Draco/Hermione ?(242 revisions)
  3. Bandfic ?(228 revisions)
  4. Beauty and the Beast ?(221 revisions)
  5. Digimon ?(219 revisions)
  6. Supernatural ?(219 revisions)
  7. CSI ?(214 revisions)
  8. Rescue Rangers ?(209 revisions)
  9. Doctor Who ?(200 revisions)
  10. X-Files ?(195 revisions)
  11. Main Page ?(190 revisions)
  12. Cassandra Claire ?(186 revisions)
  13. Organization for Transformative Works ?(184 revisions)
  14. Slash ?(157 revisions)
  15. Doctor Who fanzines ?(138 revisions)
  16. Star Trek ?(135 revisions)
  17. Bleach ?(132 revisions)
  18. Russell Crowe ?(122 revisions)
  19. Star Trek fanzines ?(121 revisions)
  20. AdultFanFiction.Net ?(119 revisions)
  21. Star Wars ?(118 revisions)
  22. Sailor Moon ?(118 revisions)
  23. The Police ?(115 revisions)
  24. Susan M. Garrett ?(114 revisions)
  25. Daiken ?(114 revisions)
  26. Lord of the Rings ?(113 revisions)
  27. LiveJournal ?(112 revisions)
  28. Mortal Instruments ?(107 revisions)
  29. Roswell ?(106 revisions)
  30. FanFiction.Net ?(106 revisions)
  31. Zelda ?(105 revisions)
  32. Duran Duran ?(103 revisions)
  33. The Forever Knight Fan Fiction Awards ?(101 revisions)
  34. Naruto ?(100 revisions)
  35. Msscribe ?(99 revisions)
  36. Avatar: The Last Airbender ?(97 revisions)
  37. Mlina ?(95 revisions)
  38. Lucia de’Medici ?(95 revisions)
  39. Warcraft ?(95 revisions)
  40. Draco/Ginny ?(95 revisions)
  41. Final Fantasy VII ?(94 revisions)
  42. Current events ?(91 revisions)
  43. Grissom/Sara ?(89 revisions)
  44. Canadian Idol ?(89 revisions)
  45. Fan fiction archives ?(89 revisions)
  46. Gundam Wing ?(87 revisions)
  47. Plagiarism ?(86 revisions)
  48. Race Fail 2009 ?(86 revisions)
  49. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer ?(86 revisions)
  50. Xena: Warrior Princess ?(85 revisions)
  51. Twilight ?(85 revisions)
  52. My Chemical Romance ?(83 revisions)
  53. X-men ?(82 revisions)
  54. Thunderbirds ?(79 revisions)
  55. Hey Arnold! ?(78 revisions)
  56. Tikatu ?(78 revisions)

Keyword peaks for fandoms and fansites on Fan History in 2008

December 31st, 2008

The following are when interest, based on keyword (not keyphrase), spiked in 2008 on Fan History according to Google Analytics…

January 5

January 11

January 13

January 14

January 27

February 22

February 27

March 2

March 8

March 13

March 18

April 17

April 29

May 22

May 27

June 10

June 13

July 6

July 20

July 24

July 29

August 3

August 11

August 12

August 13

August 21

August 22

August 23

September 12

September 27

September 29

October 6

October 15

October 16

October 17

October 20

October 21

October 31

November 6

November 9

November 9

November 11

November 22

November 23

November 28

December 1

December 6

December 9

December 11

December 28

December 29

FanFiction.Net vs. LiveJournal community size

December 6th, 2008

The bot isn’t finished running yet… but while still compiling, I thought it was worth looking at some of these fandoms and how the size of LJ fandom is beginning to look, how big fandoms look versus eachother and versus FanFiction.Net community size…

This isn’t yet complete as the bot continues to run. Some fandoms may not have had their communities looked at because they didn’t cross over much with communities the bot has already looked at. There might be some naming issues which still need to be resolved. (Which were corrected when I spotted a few of them.) Some fandoms just didn’t have communities about them in the sample community list. Some categories actually contracted as we did admin work such as deleting duplicate articles and handled Article Deletion Requests… so any fandom which didn’t have over 50 new articles for categories with over 650 articles in them were excluded.

But overall, this table begins to paint an interesting picture as to the biggest fandoms on LiveJournal. FanFiction.Net column is total articles from FanFiction.Net. LiveJournal column is FanFiction.Net + LiveJournal articles (or new total of articles in the category). Difference column equals total number of members from LiveJournal.

Twitter, fandom and me

November 25th, 2008

Before I begin this, I need to define what I mean by fandom because fandom and entertainment fans (consumers of popular culture) can often look alike but they frequently don’t act the same.

Fandom, Members of fandom:

  • Group that shares a common interest in a media product such as Harry Potter, Twilight, Star Wars, Pokemon, Starcraft, etc.
  • Are actively engaged with the product and other fans by having discussions, creating and commenting on other people’s fan fiction (art, vids, icons, costumes, etc.), attending/organizing conventions, organizing campaigns to save/improve the media product, etc.
  • Form relationships based on shared interest where the relationships with other fans are central to their activities.

Entertainment fans, consumers of popular culture:

  • Do not have a group identity as fans of a show.
  • Are passively engaged with the product by having conversations, commenting on blogs, blogging about the show, consuming the product.
  • Relationships are not at the heart of and purpose of their interactions with others who share their enjoyment of a media product.

Put simpler: Fandom is about relationships.  Entertainment fans, not so much.

Which brings me to Twitter and my sometimes confusing relationship with it as a fan.  And after a number of conversations with other fans, this is a problem that a number of other fandom people on the outside looking in suffer with.  What use is twitter for fans?  What use is Twitter for me as a fan?

I come from fandom out of mailing lists and LiveJournal where relationships are key.  If there is an author I love, I would try to form a relationship of sorts with them.  I might ask to be there beta reader.  I might e-mail or IM them with questions about their stories or what else they are working on.  If they were writing to slowly, I might leave lots and lots of feedback or beg them to WR1T3 M0R3!  I might friend them on LiveJournal to keep up with what is going on with them.  If I get to have a relationship with them, then my enjoyment of the thing for which we share an interest is enhanced.  I have another person to squee with over new episodes, and insure that stories I love will be continued, have some one to unite with against other people in the community I don’t like.  I might also have some one who could attend a convention with me or share a hotel at a convention with me which could make attending that convention cheaper.  I’ve got a friend.  Well.  Sort of.  Once our interests change or if I do something which upsets the person’s ability to enjoy the community or the material, I don’t have a friend any more.  But while we’re both in that relationship, we’re great and we communicate a lot.

If I want to get “ahead” in fandom, if I want to have greater influence, I form relationships with people who are in the position to help me.  I can make friends with fan fiction archivists, with authors who have huge amounts of readers, with content producers, etc.  And if I want to be able to leverage these relationships for my own benefit, I’ve got to actively work on maintain those relationships in order to maintain my status because they key to staying on top, well, the phrase is “What have you done for me lately?”

So along comes Twitter.   Twitter is great.  Twitter is love.  For the social media lover in me, I can’t get enough of Twitter.  It means I can follow people I met at BarCamps, keep up with what is going on in the wiki community, possibly get some traffic for the site I run, can network with people who might have leads for work for me, can interact with news organizations in a way that I haven’t before.

Except, well, for all the great things Twitter does for that, it doesn’t do much for me as a member of fandom.  Fandom is all about relationships remember.  It is one thing to follow a person and comment, but that’s not enough in fandom.  You need to have more focus and extended conversations.  The Twitter format just doesn’t allow for that.  It is too short to adequately share love of the source with or to hold conversations with others.  If you do try to have extended conversations on Twitter, if you’re not providing value to others who follow you, you could lose followers.  Ick.

One of my friends has other issues which put her off Twitter as a member of fandom. Twitter is very immediate.  You can’t hold conversations over an extended period of time because the format doesn’t lend itself to that.  If I am out on Thursday and miss the new episode of CSI and my friend watched it, we can catch up on AIM or blog about it a couple of days later, when we have the time.  Twitter doesn’t allow that.  And when your relationship is dependent on that shared material, the inability to slow the flow of conversation on your own terms?  It can be bad news.

Another friend has issues with some of the comments on Twitter being so banal and unrelated to why they care about the person.  They don’t care that you just woke up, that you’re eating breakfast, that you landed at Heathrow, etc.  They don’t care that you are having a conversation with SEO with some one on Twitter that teaches you a lot. (I get this a lot from my fandom friends on Twitter.  Especially when I start having conversations with people they don’t follow.  They’ve considered unfollowing me because I do that so often.)  What are they getting out of their relationship with me when I do that?

Another issue that comes up is content.  Why follow me on Twitter for news about what I am doing fannishly when you can keep up with that on Fan History’s blog, my LiveJournal or on Fan History’s InsaneJournal asylum?  The information is better, more detailed and easier to follow.  It is easier to keep up to date because the content is much more focused.  The blog is going to be about fandom.  The posts will be once a day.  You’re not going to have to filter around my other random content.  If content is king, then Twitter, unless carefully focused, mostly includes links and doesn’t involve loads of engagement that is off putting, then well, Twitter fails.  Content on Twitter isn’t king when it comes to relationship maintenance.

So relationships that are dependent on Twitter end up feeling shallow, where they feel hard to leverage for your relationships to faciliate your enjoyment of canon and accomplish your goals in fandom.  Things feel even more confusing when Twitter appears to require a large follow list to be viewed as important on or influential on Twitter (and in fandom).  How can you have relationships with people that are meaningful, that give you something back, when you can’t actively engage people because the “content” disappears so quickly and could easily be missed?  In terms of my fandom relationships, I find I can’t maintain them like I can in other places.  I end up having to play catch up with Twitter by reading their Tweets when daily summaries are posted to their LiveJournals.

In the end, what this means for me is I, and a number of my fannish acquaintances, haven’t figured out how to use Twitter for our fannish enjoyment. Yes, I know how to use it to promote my projects. Yes, I love it for networking professionally. I understand how to use it to monitor reputations and get celebrity and entertainment news. I’ve found some great Chicago related social media events. Fandom though… still a problem and I can’t see it changing.

Don’t do that! TPTB might find out!

November 13th, 2008

I used to read a lot of posts about how certain actions should not be taken lest the powers that be crack down on that fan, and as a consequence, all fans. (And these types of posts still exist.) There was frequently a Chicken Little “The sky is falling!” type pile on when some people were perceived as crossing lines that others felt that would bring down the wrath of others. CousinJean, the Star Wars self published novel, FanLib are three of the more visible examples to parts of the meta community over on LiveJournal.

And guess what Chicken Littles? The sky never fell. TPTB never unleashed that backlash. That whole exercise appeared to be more about social cohesion in a narrow community of fandom than it was ever about a real potential backlash. None ever happened. For all the talk of OTW creating a legal group because FanLib‘s existence was going to lead to a crack down and fans would need protection? No crackdown. TPTB weren’t going to do it. There was too much of a risk that they would lose in court.

When I see that argument these days, I really just roll my eyes. “Don’t do that! The Powers That Be MIGHT FIND OUT AND BRING PERIL TO OUR HOBBY!” Yeah. Right. These days, companies and individuals either actively seek to find out what is going on in fandom or hire out to have some one monitor what is going on for them. Your Harry Potter is 10 and doing Snape who is in his 30s fan art that you’ve posted publicly on a social networking site like DeviantART or LiveJournal or InsaneJournal? They know about it. That people are selling their works at conventions, on eBay, auctioning them off for donations to their favorite charities, that people are raising funds and making money in some form off those works? They know all about that too. And they haven’t done anything major about it in a long time.

So go screaming about how that’s the way things are, that by selling your fanart, the person is going to bring down the wrath of the intellectual property holders down on innocent, non-profiting fans. All you’re doing with that is demonstrating that you’re not cognizant of the existing business climate and its models, of what businesses are doing and affording yourself more privacy than you actually have: TPTB already know.

Communicating with the fandom community

July 15th, 2008

When you’re running a fansite, LiveJournal community, mailing list, ficathon, convention or anything else in fandom where you’re effectively in charge, there are all sorts of communication issues that have to be dealt with.  As the person who is running whatever fandom project you’re running, the weight of whatever decision is made falls on you.  Whatever risk, be it legal, financial or social, there is with the project is yours to bear.   You’re on a different level with the users because you don’t necessarily have the same purposes for being involved.  These different levels can cause communication problems.

Did I mention problems?  Companies operating in fandom can attest to the communication problems that arise.  Wikia, LiveJournal, Quizilla, Lucasfilms Ltd., TokyoPop have all had to deal with the backlash of members of fandom not being happy with the decisions made by those corporations.  Fan run groups also have had similar problems in communication with fandom regarding the purpose of their projects, the rules they have, etc and have had to deal with backlashes.  Organization for Transformative Works, SkyHawke, FicWad, SugarQuill, Fiction Alley, ficathons or communities that have not allowed slash or gen, mailing lists over policies regarding concrit, the list could go on and on.

So how do you communicate with the community which you’re creating or operating in?  There is no simple answer.  Over on InsaneJournal and LiveJournal, I’ve discussed this with a few people who have operated fansites and other fan communities.  Even amongst my peers, we can’t reach a consensus.

While there are no simple answers, there are questions that can help you determine how you should communicate with them and what about.

  • Should you tell users all about the financial situation in regards to your project?

This is a common communication problem for fan projects because they take money to run.  Fans can sometimes have entitlement issues which can make those who run projects queasy about because those fans can wank a money situation hard core.   Couple that with your own need for money to help fund your site, well… huge problems can develop.

Before communicating with your users or others involved with your project, determine your comfort level and your potential monetary needs.   If you’re not willing to be in the spotlight, then consider not talking about money.  Deal with everything behind the scenes;try to keep the project scalable so you don’t need to create waves with users by begging for donations or adding advertisements.  By making changes and being public about those changes and the monetary reasons behind it, you’re likely to become fandom unpopular and end up on fandom wank.  If discussing money in fandom is something you’re not comfortable with, don’t discuss it period and don’t create situations where you might need to.  If you need money to run the site, then be honest about it from the get go.  Be as specific as you’re comfortable with and provide as much information to users as you think they need in order for you to meet your finacial obligations for the project.

  • Should you discuss policy decisions with your users?

Fan fiction archives, mailing lists, LiveJournal communities, wikis, forums have rules.  (Or don’t.  But most do.)   At some point, some one is going to object to those rules existing or run afoul of them.  You’ll ban some one for plagiarism.  Some one will question why your m/m slash community doesn’t allow f/f slash.  People will get upset because you needed to throttle bandwidth and turned off the feature that they cannot live with out.  People will demand, absolutely DEMAND an explanation from you in some of these cases.

This situation is difficult. My advice is make a short statement and do not engage outside that.  If you must engage, do so privately.  By actively and publicly engaging your users over say why you banned a particular author for plagiarism, you’re inviting them into dialog.  That dialog is probably one that you cannot control.  If the dialog is going on on your community or site and you shut it down after you’ve participated, people are going to come after you with all sorts of lovely accusations of stopping freedom of speech, breaking your own rules and being a hypocrit.  It is a situation you cannot win because you probably won’t be able to scream as loud as those complaining as their numbers are probably larger than yours.  Just wait it out, be willing to risk losing participants and friends.  Don’t capiluate unless you have to because by capitulating, you’re giving people permission to pull that similar stunts.   Eventually, those situations will pass.

Before you get there, make sure your ass is covered.  About page, Terms of Service pages, contact information, rules pages, help pages on how to use your project, a history of your project, all of those are communication tools.  If you want, include an article about why your policies are the way they are… but have it up before you launch.  If you don’t accept chan because you are in Australia and that’s child porn, then communicate that with your users so they know who to blame.  (The Australian government, not you the fan fiction archivist.) Make sure they are linked in your header, footer or sidebar so people don’t have an excuse for not seeing them.  That can head off some of the worst that may come at you.

  • Should I communicate with people participating with my project?

This is a question I’ve seen from a few tech oriented people in fandom.  They do not see the inherent need to communicate with the users on the sites they run.  Or they think that they can get away with just communicating with their administrative help people.  I’ve also seen members of fandom  lament over the lack of contact they’ve had with administrators at the sites they use.  This happens with big sites like FanFiction.Net and smaller groups like mailing lists or LiveJournal communities.

The decision to communicate with people involved with your project comes down to a couple of things.  Do you need to continue to promote your project?  If yes, then you need to communicate with participants until such a time that marketing begins to take care of itself.  If no, then you might be able to get away with it.  Do you plan to use the project as an example of your coding skills and is that your primary motivation for building the project?  If yes, then you can probably get away with out communicating with participants for your project because the project isn’t about the participants and the community but about the underlying value being the coding.  Is your project central to your identity in fandom?  If yes, then you probably want to help keep and maintain that identity by protecting your project by communicating with your project’s participants.  Can you get some one else to communicate for you?  If yes, then the pressure is off you and you can use that other person to handle any problems.  Can you afford to lose people because you’re not answering questions?  If yes, then you probably don’t need to communicate that often with people.

  • What platform should I use to keep in touch with people?

There are so many tools out there for people to communicate with participants in their projects.  They include blogs, message boards, IRC, instant messenger programs, report abuse forms, contact forms, services like getsatisfaction.com, social networking services, e-mail, mailing lists, the main page of your site, private messaging through various sites, microblogging services, flyers, the phone, snail mail mailings, etc. Before you start your project, determine how you’re going to do that.  Consistency for you and participants related to your project is important.  (I know.  I’ve learned the hard way and I still make this mistake.)  Find a method of communicating that you’re comfortable with.  If you can’t stand twitter but your users are all on twitter, then don’t use it as your primary communication tool because you’re less likely to be as responsive as you should be to people’s concerns.  Use the tools that you’re most comfortable with to communicate with people.  And then advertise what tools people can use to get in touch with you using and under what conditions they should contact you.

How you communicate, what you communicate about and when you communicate are personal decisions and/or business like decisions.  No solution is one size fits all.  Determine your needs, your objectives and your comfort levels and you should be able to find a solution that works for communicating regarding your project in the fan community.

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