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18 January 2008 @ 02:50 am
No One Has Any Pants  
Taking a line from that old story about emperors and swindlers for this post title. I'm talking about the people in that giant cluster fuck we call the debate about OTW and fanfiction in general. In my opinion, too many people have no legs to stand on. Like this post full of stereotypes and just wrong-headed 'feminism.' And some of the comments here, especially from a certain Richard S. Wheeler, who happens to be a writer of westerns whose cover art a friend of mine has compared to romance novel covers (link is to a list of his novels).

To begin, I've finally pinned down what irritates me most about OTW's statement to the effect that fandom is a 'female-dominated community with a long history of creativity and commentary. My problem is not that it excludes males. My problem is that it is an attempt to redefine fandom in their image (and a damn ugly one it is, too), to define it as those who engage in their favourite fan activities. As so many people have stated, fandom is not a homogeneous entity; it is a disorganized swarm of sometimes antagonistic entities of varying size.

From what I understand, OTW excludes or marginalizes those who do not create 'transformative' works, whether AMVs, fanfiction, fanart, and so on. It seems the top heads at OTW all share similar fannish backgrounds; the world looks an awful lot like an endless plain of ice if you're in the middle of Antarctica. This raises the question: What makes a fourteen year-old writing badly spelled slash fiction more of a fan than someone a few years older who can debate the pros and cons of dozens of fictional societies from Heinlein's veteran-dominated democracy in Starship Troopers to Asimov's Foundation to the Dan Simmons' Pax to le Guin's Gethenians? Less than nothing in my opinion, but that is not what OTW thinks.

Fans do many strange things, and we all have different ways of showing our obsession. Some catalogue continuity errors, some collect merchandise, some learn by heart the minutiae of alien ship design, some speculate and argue endlessly on internet forums, and, yes, some write fanfiction. All of these are as fannish as the others, but OTW only values the last one. There is considerable overlap, of course, but to value only one avenue of fan endeavour, even an avenue as broad as 'transformative works,' is troubling. Of course, this is to be expected from the organization's name, but to try to characterize fandom solely by that criterion is wrong.

Whether particular fandoms are dominated by women, whether certain fan activities are dominated by women is irrelevant. The core of my problem with OTW is that they are defining fandom by their own narrow view and excluding those who do not engage in their activities for whatever reason. I read a comment somewhere that this is basically a bunch of older fans trying to make their hobby look less embarrassing and I'm inclined to agree.

On the other side, the people who would love to suppress fanfiction completely, or at least tame it and have it run in the traces beside 'real' authors, we have two  quotes from M. Wheeler regarding fanfiction from the blog linked to earlier (widely separated in time):

In typical fan fiction there is not even a physical description of the characters. That means that the work is incomplete and cannot stand on its own, and therefore it has limited artistic merit.

In original works, characters are carefully introduced. Their appearance, age, history, attitudes, beliefs, idiosyncracies are swiftly introduced because without them the stories make little sense. Fan fiction usually short-circuits these essentials, which is why so little fan fiction could be considered literature. This incompleteness damages the original author's characters, and potentially turns off potential readers or viewers.

These quotes reveal him as, at best, a blowhard trying to score rhetorical points without thinking them through or, at worst, a semi-literate buffoon who has not read anything outside his own genre. Something about being published seems to endow a writer with a planet-sized ego that for the purposes of discussing writing and art online.

The idea that physical descriptions of characters are necessary for 'completeness' is clearly preposterous on its face. If one is to read the Iliad or Odyssey or maybe Ovid's Metamorphoses, just how much physical description do we see of people? At most we have a few key adjectives repeated as epithets: Auburn-haired Menelaus, Grey-eyed Athena, White-armed Hera, and so on. Perhaps a general description of someone as large or beautiful.
For that matter, the Bible does not indulge in lengthy descriptions of people. Are we to conclude that these works are 'incomplete and have limited artistic merit?' (Anyone answering in the affirmative will be crucified.)

The school of thought that insists on complete, detailed descriptions of characters' features is anathema to me. If one reads the best works by the best writers, what do we see? We find sketches of characters to create an effect; a general impression of a face or figure that is intended to let us form an idea of character from appearance-- angelic, diabolical, buffoonish, rakish, and so on. An arrangement of dress, parts, and features that tend toward certain conclusions about the person. In another popular method we find characters distinguished by their most salient features, the distinctive oddities that make people memorable: a stiff, knee-popping gait; bushy eyebrows that meet above the nose; a missing arm.

Finally, we find characters defined vaguely or through metaphor: e.g., 'she was ugly, but with only a tiny twist might have been beautiful'. There is no single way to describe characters, and in many cases physical appearance is completely irrelevant to the story. Would Asimov's short stories have worked better if we knew Character A was four inches taller than Character B and both had brown hair? No. Because what the two people looked like has absolutely nothing to do with what they do and what is going on.

Similarly, characters can be introduced slowly, with their most obvious traits shown first. Physical description does not have to be given in large lumps, but can be given out a few details at a time that coalesce into a full picture. Age is revealed only as needed, and best left as a general impression on the observer. The authors I know best who tend to focus most on physical descriptions of characters are authors writing for serialization who get paid by the word and needed to create installments of a certain size (granted, some of their work is very very good, but serialization does create certain weaknesses when the work gets large) and romance novelists.

Attitudes, beliefs, and idiosyncracies should be introduced slowly and only as they become relevant to the story being told. What does it matter if Character X really hates turnips if he is a thousand miles from the nearest turnip farm and didn't bring any along? What does it matter if Character Y is adamently anti-abortion if the topic never comes up in conversation and no abortion clinic ever appears? People do not walk around with political manifestos pinned to their sleeves, nor do they show all their strange habits around strangers. It takes time for them to develop enough comfort around others (particular others, that is) for these traits to come out. Some of them, anyway; what each person hides or shows is obviously dependent on the individual.

One more quote from M. Wheeler:

Roll back technology to a time when publication meant setting type and printing and binding books and then distributing them, all at great cost, and you reach a historic time when fanficcers weren't very active. The opportunity wasn't there.

He has obviously never heard of the unauthorized Second Part to Don Quixote or the Gnostic Gospels or the Baker Street Irregulars. All of these were manifestations of 'fanfiction' and at least one of them was for profit. Throw into the balance the thousand and one romances of the Round Table or the Twelve Peers of France and we see that this statement has even less basis in reality. As I've said before, the 'fanficcing' impulse is a very deeply seated part of human creativity that has survived from the beginning of literature. Only recently has the idea of 'ownership' of characters and settings sprung up. The violence of Cervantes's response to the spurious Second Part was in great part due to the personal abuse against him contained in that fic.

Edit: Looks like someone beat me to it on the OTW thing.
Current Mood: irateirate
Current Music: Sink the Bismark by Johnny Horton
Lady Lark: Beauty & the Beast - Good!Ficleilia on January 18th, 2008 09:49 am (UTC)
Very interesting semi-rant.
Chibi Halochibihalo on January 18th, 2008 10:32 am (UTC)
Man don't you just love it when people like the chick in the first thing you linked to decides to disable her comments so no one can tell her how wrong she is. I just want to whack her upside the head and introduce her to a few people from MMO. We have MEN watching over our fanfiction sections. MEN who sit and discuss pairings and which ones to write next and what girl goes with what girl more than the women do. MEN who stress over correct characterization and just where the plot is going to lead next. Sure, in the two arenas, animation and Harry Potter, that are very dominate in the fandom world women do seem to outnumber the men. However, it's wrong to assume that men are only interested in anything with star in the title or anything that takes place in space. That is completely wrong. I know plenty of MEN who are into series that would appear to be mostly female dominated if you didn't really take a look at what's being discussed. Seven to nine years ago when I was just really getting into reading and writing fanfiction before the days of FF.Net and MMO it was MEN who wrote a lot of the very good Sailor Moon and Ranma fics out there. I guess all she's concerned with is the current trends in fanfiction, fanart, and icon making (that's one field I'm hard pressed to find a man who admits to making the current trend of radioactive lovlies).

I tell you though, during the initial read through of your post one line just jumped out at me because of who it brought to mind.

Something about being published seems to endow a writer with a planet-sized ego that for the purposes of discussing writing and art online.

We definitely got a healthy dose of the planet sized ego over on MMO in the form of that vampire romance novel writer. It's as though once a person is published they can throw around that fact when discussing things of the fanfiction nature. "You don't do it this way because that's not how it's done in the publishing world" seems to be the argument they like to throw around when talking to people who love to write as a hobby in order to better their writing for other fields. These people aren't looking to be published. They just want to better their grammar and storytelling so people will continue to follow their works. Yet it seems these people think everyone who writes wants to be published and therefore must know exactly what their editors and publishers told them so they could continue to be published.

As for Wheeler, maybe the man needs to be told that, hey, people who read the books, watch the movies, and tune in for the weekly series already know the basic facts about the cannon characters they're reading in some fanfic. A lot of fanfic writers actually consider describing the canon characters for introduction redundant and unnecessary.

But overall, I'm glad I'm not that engrossed in fandom to be concerned what a bunch of hard core feminists drooling over their boy smex over at OTW consider fandom to be truly about.
Nelle: fraser gaylovelokest on January 21st, 2008 03:38 am (UTC)
(here via metafandom)
Whether particular fandoms are dominated by women, whether certain fan activities are dominated by women is irrelevant. The core of my problem with OTW is that they are defining fandom by their own narrow view and excluding those who do not engage in their activities for whatever reason. I read a comment somewhere that this is basically a bunch of older fans trying to make their hobby look less embarrassing and I'm inclined to agree.

I disagree. One of the main goals of the OTW is to prevent the reattribution of female-originated activities to men. One example of this is documented in Kristina Busse's review of Media-in-Transition 5 from last year.

To quote her: When a guy can show a machinima vid and proudly announce 1996 as the date of origin for that art form, he’s eliding decades of female vidding history. And that’s very, very wrong. (Harvard 2005)

The first vid? Kandy Fong's "Both Sides Now" vid from 1975, done as a slideshow because it predated VCRs.

The OTW is trying to preserve our corner of fannish history, the media-fen part that is predominantly female.
laura_holt_pilaura_holt_pi on January 21st, 2008 06:52 am (UTC)
Re: (here via metafandom)
Being wrong about the date of the first vid is not some kind of attack on women. I'd also be very suspicious of anyone claiming they can prove that Kandy's was the first. All we can say is that hers is the oldest known about so far. Frankly, I don't think her gender (or his) is relevant here. "Female vidding history" indeed! Unless you are using your genitals to make the vids, what their arrangement is can only be irrelevant.
The Elf ½elfwreck on January 21st, 2008 08:24 am (UTC)
Re: (here via metafandom)
Being wrong about the date of the first vid is not an attack on women. But he was also wrong about the date of the second vid. And the third. Not noticing the several hundred (thousand?) others that were made by women between 1975 and 1996, shows an utter lack of awareness of technological contributions by women.

Is it because they're women? No way to prove it... but if they were men, ignoring all their early video work would be seen as a grossly inaccurate academic statement, and whoever made the claim would be forced to make a public apology.
dumas1dumas1 on January 21st, 2008 06:53 am (UTC)
Re: (here via metafandom)
Question: Was the guy referring to machinima specifically or vidding in general? I'm afraid that that side of fandom is not something I know much about, but I'd like more specifics. As I understand it, machinima refers specifically to vids made using computer game engines, usually manipulating models/sprites/whatever to act out a scene of some sort, whether through in-game actions or modding tools. This can be viewed as an art form distinct from vidding done by editing together clips of existing footage.

I made no claims about whether any activities were female-originated (and you'd lose on fanfiction, anyway, if only because of the spurious sequel to Don Quixote and other age-old shenanigans).

There's nothing wrong with wanting to preserve one's own view of history, fannish or otherwise. There is something wrong with trying to present it as the whole history. There are many aspects of fandom beyond media-fen and transformative works. OTW must make clear exactly what they are focusing on, their viewpoint, and perhaps what they are excluding. 'Laypeople' have no idea that there is such a thing as media-fandom, or only a fuzzy conception of 'fandom' if they have one at all. OTW cannot be allowed to (unconsciously?) exploit this to (re)define fandom to the lay public.
Stella Omegadharma_slut on January 22nd, 2008 01:40 am (UTC)
Re: (here via metafandom)
Was the guy referring to machinima specifically or vidding in general?

You could ask her, if you felt it important.

Actually, the post is worth your while to read, coming right about the same time as the first intimations of fanlib, and just before strikthrough (History happens so fast).

(Deleted and re-posted to fix the stupidest html mistake...)
a pang of indescribable profundity: dead wronghector_rashbaum on January 21st, 2008 04:04 am (UTC)
It's not a case of "valuing transformative works over other forms of fandom" it's a case of being an organization specifically for transformative works. That's not saying transformative works are all there is, or all that's important, it's saying we want to advocate for the legitimacy/legality of transformative works because we think they're legitimate/legal.

Gay rights groups don't (necessarily) think gays are more valuable than straight people, they just think gays deserve rights. Period. It's not a value statement.

(Gay rights =/= fanworks, yes yes I know)
Lydia Belllydiabell on January 21st, 2008 04:15 am (UTC)
From what I understand, OTW excludes or marginalizes those who do not create 'transformative' works, whether AMVs, fanfiction, fanart, and so on

It's unsurprising that the Organization for Transformative Works is about transformative works. That's why it's called that, and not the Organization for Fandom. Likewise, the Sierra Club (example off the top of my head, so don't read too much into it!) doesn't "exclude or marginalize" activists who are working for health care reform, or say that they're not activists; it's just not about that issue. The whole OTW thing started as an archive for fanfic (later to add fanart and vids, I believe, but the fic part is the easiest thing to get up and running first). The rest of the organization is being built to support that archive, to make it less likely that it will get taken down either by copyright holders or by asshats like the group that got LJ to kill off accounts last summer.

I see no indication whatsoever that the OTW has taken the position that fandom is limited to those who produce transformative fanworks. I see that position attributed to them a lot by detractors, and I saw one careless comment about Henry Jenkins, but I have never seen anybody from OTW say that this is OTW's position. Most likely because it isn't.
The Elf ½: Canon Junkieelfwreck on January 21st, 2008 04:36 am (UTC)
Art and vids may be added later, but they're an intrinsic part of the planned archive. It's not "fic, and art and vids and maybe other stuff if we can figure out how to code it." (Not saying that's what you meant.) Multifandom, multifanworks archive, run by fans who are aware of the legal issues surrounding fanworks.
Lydia Belllydiabell on January 21st, 2008 04:40 am (UTC)
Clarification appreciated. :)
dumas1dumas1 on January 21st, 2008 06:29 am (UTC)
Ok, maybe I misread some stuff here or there or somewhere, but OTW needs to make clear that they represent only their corner of fandom and perhaps give 'laypeople' some idea of the different divisions of fandom. Believe it or not, there is more to fandom than media-fandom. There is an impression going around that they claim or would like to represent everyone. The FAQ at their site makes sweeping statements about 'all fans' and 'fan culture in its myriad forms.' So, this is the question: What about people who are fans and want nothing to do with 'transformative work?'

Perhaps the issue is less whether OTW claims to represent all fans (and the cynic bets they will use sweeping language in public statements about fandom, whatever the 'official' position on this is), but that they will give people outside fandom that impression. Or the people spinning arguments around in circles about them will. The fundamental problem is that the 'predominantly female community with a rich history of creativity and commentary' is only a portion of specific fandoms that does not represent 'fandom' at large, defined in broad terms. And images and impressions are very much an issue in this debate.

I tend to look at 'fandom' with a heavy science fiction and fantasy bias since history and mythology, the other things I tend to be 'fannish' about, are, well, respectable. I would hesitate to characterize those fan realms as predominately male or female, though they are stereotypically male interests (I suspect it's about even, based on my own acquaintances), but OTW would have us only recognize half or less than half of them as fans.
The Elf ½: Canon Junkieelfwreck on January 21st, 2008 07:27 am (UTC)
My opinions. I don't speak for the OTW; I speak about them, from my understanding. (Which means if a staff member says anything that contradicts me, believe them, and tell me I've got it wrong. Or ignore me, and let me figure out that I've got it wrong; it's not your job to do my research.)

1) OTW claims that fanfic about bands, sports teams and so on are transformative works in the general sense--they're transforming the publicly-available information about celebrities and their stage personas into fanworks. So bandslash, RPF and so on is just as welcome at their archive as any other kind of fan-written fic. There's less discussion about it, because RPF is legally protected in ways that book/tv/movie/etc.-based fanfics are not.

2) People who are fans and have no interest in creating/archiving fanworks (most obviously, fanfic, fanart, fanvids; might include other things--fan-made games? CSS layouts that for some reason aren't "art?"), or have no interest in archiving at the OTW site, could contribute to the wiki or the journal, if they so desired. There may be something resembling a blog/other social interactivity thing; fans could participate in that.

3) Fans who don't create or want to archive fanworks there, don't want to put stuff in its wiki, aren't interested in the journal, and so on, don't have to. The OTW may attempt to consider their interests and needs when making decisions (like which legal situations to get involved in), but without direct participation and feedback, OTW's ability to meet those fans' needs is probably very limited.
dumas1dumas1 on January 21st, 2008 07:45 am (UTC)
This is...interesting.

Perhaps what's troubling me is what I take to be the unspoken motivations behind OTW (yay for cynicism and paranoia!). They seem to want to be a 'public face' for fandom. They almost have to be aware that such an organization is easily taken as representing the whole of fandom and not just their specific corner of it. Again, the emphasis on 'transformative' works can lead to a severe misperception on the part of the lay public about just what fans do and who we are.

Or we can take Mdm. Busse at her word.

To stretch a point, the popular image of Christianity is shaped by loud-mouthed extremists who are in the public eye. Their views may have little to do with what most Christians believe, but they are still seen as the religion's 'public face.'

All this, of course, assumes that OTW actually manages to gain public recognition, put out a significant number of statements, and does not just fade into irrelevance.
The Elf ½elfwreck on January 21st, 2008 08:20 am (UTC)
I was watching at the beginning of OTW, when it was "fanarchive." It was inspired by Fanlib, which boldly announced it was going to "bring fanfiction out of the shadows!" and yet had a TOS that boiled down to "anything you put on our site, we can use any way we want, including commercially, but if any copyright/IP issues show up, you not only indemnify us, you'll pay any legal expenses we incur because you were stupid enough to post your criminal stuff on our site."

Oh, and Fanlib refused to engage in any discussion with female fans, but was cheerfully willing to have a Q&A session with a male academic who writes *about* fans.

So a group of fen decided that it'd be a good idea to have a fan-run archive. Go us. One that doesn't assume male academics know more about fandom than female fans. Yay for gender awareness. And then Strikethrough hit. And they decided the archive needed a solid legal awareness of issues relating to IP law, obscenity, privacy and a few other issue.

Everything else is ancillary to that.

They don't want to be "the public face of fandom"--but they're aware that, by putting together a team to research the specific legal issues relevant to fandom, they're occasionally going to be perceived that way.

I don't believe the OTW is going to push itself into public awareness--but it expects to be found by the media, because unlike other fan archives, it's not going to hide and hope nobody finds it, because it refuses to accept the premise that there's anything wrong with fanfic.

So it has lots of soundbitey statements in its early version, and not much to tell *fans* what they're actually doing--because they figure it doesn't matter what they tell fans; what matters is how well the archive works. Until that's up, it's all hot air. Which the media sometimes cares about, but fans don't.
Franzifranzeska on January 24th, 2008 04:47 pm (UTC)
Oh come on: whoever gets to a given reporter first is the "public face of fandom" at that point in time. I had one approach me at a con once and I mumbled a few things about fic (which she was specifically asking about--I didn't bring it up) and then fled precisely because I'm not very diplomatic and not a good public face for anything. Later, I saw that she'd interviewed some other people written an absolutely insane article that misused terminology left right and center. (Not my fault! I never mentioned the word 'slash', so whoever she got her definition from, it wasn't me.)

I'd much rather have OTW's PR people representing me to the media than some random fan or an outsider or, well, me for that matter. (Which is why I'm on the content committee and not the various PR type ones.) And, yes, this means I don't speak officially for the OTW, as I have said in numerous other comments, some quoted as official positions.

My suggestion for people who really don't like the OTW and don't want it talking to reporters is to start your own organization, gain some recognition, and issue your own statements. Outsiders are always going to get a fragmented, incomplete, partisan view of any group. It could just as easily be yours.
Quiet desperationlexin on January 21st, 2008 10:25 am (UTC)
but OTW needs to make clear that they represent only their corner of fandom

I thought that by calling themselves 'Organisation for Transformative Works' they did that just fine.

guestypersonguestyperson on January 22nd, 2008 03:17 am (UTC)
Not if they follow it up with statements about "Fan culture in its myriad forms"
(Deleted comment)
laura_holt_pi: doorlaura_holt_pi on January 21st, 2008 06:59 am (UTC)
Here you say a lot of what I've been thinking, but you say it so much better.