There’s a lengthy entry up by one cupidsbow discussing fanfic in the context of Joanna Russ’ How to Supress Women’s Writing. I spent a good fifteen minutes attempting to write a comment in response to somebody over there, but I’ve decided I’m better off doing so over here; the thought I’m trying to articulate is thorny and awkward, and I’m having trouble figuring out how to phrase it, and if I try to do so over there, odds are I’ll just piss multiple people off and find myself at the bottom of a verbal dogpile I didn’t mean to start. So I’ll chew on my thought over here, and see what I can get out of it. Warning; what follows is rambling and unfocused, and not entirely thought-out.
The proximate comment that set me off is: And, of course, if you’re a really good fanfiction writer, you’re encouraged to write original fic – and this is seen as a step up, despite the fact that a lot of fanfiction written by experienced writers is better than published writing. But it also is colliding somewhere in the back of my head with: But what I’m wondering is if I’ve been encultured to think that my fun isn’t worth being paid for. See, men write stuff they want to read and get paid for it. Why is my work less valuable?
buymeaclue has already made the obvious response to that latter one, so I don’t need to. Instead, let’s start chewing on the thoughts in my head.
I’ve seen several comments recently in various places on the topic of encouraging fanfic writers to turn their hands to original fiction. All of those comments (which are by fanficcers) have been negative. And I’m increasingly feeling like there’s a hostile backlash happening within the fanfic community against this very suggestion.
I can understand where that would come from: if you run into people who think the worst of paid original fiction is inherently superior to the best of unpaid derivative fanfiction (I’m using “derivative” in the technical sense, not as a value judgment), then yeah, you’re going to be pissed off by the continual suggestions that you’d be much better off spending your time and effort on something worthwhile.
But for the love of little fishes, people — not everybody encouraging you to write non-derivative fiction is doing so because they think fanfic sucks. In fact, sometimes they’re noticing that it doesn’t suck, and encouraging you to bring the cool things that are happening over in that sandbox into this one. Because, as cupidsbow notes in that post, there are a lot of ways in which the institutional factors of fanfic contribute to its marginalization and suppression (and with it, the marginalization and suppression of those largely female voices) — so I think it’s helpful to bring some of the innovation of the marginalized community into the non-marginalized one. It’ll liven up the textual discussion over here, and draw eyes toward what’s going on over there, instead of leaving it in a ghetto the rest of the world tries to ignore.
There’s thornier stuff still in my head, though. Like the ways in which some of the fanfic community seems to want to do backflips in order to avoid noticing the fact that what they’re doing is illegal. We can have arguments about the problems with our copyright laws until the cows come home — I’d be the first to point out some of those problems — and yes, some authors give it a tacit or implicit thumbs-up anyway, and yes, there are fanfic writers out there whose craft kicks the stuffing out of some professional writers, and yes, there’s awesome stuff happening on a community level, but the point is, creating derivative works based on a text currently under copyright is illegal. Please don’t jump down the throat of anybody who brings that up. It’s relevant to the social position of fanfiction: yes, part of the reason it’s ignored is that it’s mostly written by women; it’s non-hetero-normative; it focuses on issues devalued by the (masculine) establishment; etc etc; but the reason you can’t get paid for it is that the law says you can’t. Which is another reason for encouraging fanficcers to try original fiction: what happens when we push the boundaries of the status quo with similar work that isn’t illegal? Then the legitimate reason to disregard it is gone; then we have to face up to the illegitimate reasons.
The tendency of the fanfic community (in a deliberately generalized sense) to valorize their own activity is entirely expected, and in some cases important. Where I get irritated is when it goes too far. Frex, when people act as if all fanfic is wonderful — face it, folks, it’s got its share of crap, just like everything does, but fanfic probably has a higher proportion of crap for the simple reason that there aren’t any barriers to entry; familiarity with a spell-checker is not a prerequisite for posting your work. You don’t need to pretend the bad stuff doesn’t exist, though.
I think I’ll leave it there, not because I’ve arrived at any conclusion, but because my thoughts have ceased to have anything resembling forward momentum, and rambling on even more aimlessly won’t suit anybody’s purpose. Now let’s see how many people I’ve managed to offend . . . .