kaigou: this is what I do, darling (4 distraction factor)
[personal profile] kaigou
Recently, while following links on something else entirely (as usual), I came across a presentation from TED, by Seth Godin (author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us). Right about the same time as watching that short video, I also stumbled across a post by [personal profile] obsession_inc called Affirmational fandom vs. Transformational fandom, which posits that:
In "affirmational" fandom, the source material is re-stated, the author's purpose divined to the community's satisfaction, rules established on how the characters are and how the universe works, and cosplay &etc. occur. It all tends to coalesce toward a center concept; it's all about nailing down the details. ... "Transformational" fandom, on the other hand, is all about laying hands upon the source and twisting it to the fans' own purposes, whether that is to fix a disappointing issue (a distinct lack of sex-having between two characters, of course, is a favorite issue to fix) in the source material, or using the source material to illustrate a point, or just to have a whale of a good time.

The two theories/perspectives (Godin, [personal profile] obsession_inc) are wildly divergent in terms of their origins, and (I would argue) to their external intentions -- that is, the former uses the premise as a springboard for activism, while the latter operates independent of any such consequences. So, in some ways, there's only a passing resemblance, but it's there to me all the same.

Meanwhile, of course, reading essays on postmodernism and its clash with feminist theory, and browsing my way through various pseudo-academic (and outright academic) texts on Japanese animation, I kept coming across oblique references to fandom and fan participation. Or, not-so-oblique, if we get into talking about Azuma's arguments. Regardless, this all simmered, and the following illustrated meta-story, or meta-theory, is all that capped off by the discussion on my previous posts over fanfiction and the question of whether fandom has influence on the creative process or whether it's simply a backdrop to what may sometimes be a process independent of any community.

And, of course, the not-yet-dead discussion of Published Authors Behaving Badly when it comes to fanfiction.

So, to start, in this first picture we have ourselves a newly-published original story.



The large solid-blue square is the story, and within that resides a green circle, which is our Author. The reason for the Author's existence as the story's center is not just because of the Author's role as creator; it's also because, in order to divine the Author's intentions/interpretations, traditionally your only route was via the text. The Author may have thought A, B, or C, but prior to maybe about 50 or more years ago, the average reader's connection to the Author's intentions (in telling the story) were solely via the story itself.

So, when a fandom of some sort developed around that original story, traditionally it would look something like this.



Here, the yellow circles are the readers/fans, and the dark blue line is their connection to the text. The author remains in the center, untouched. As (predominantly Western, but I think this applies universally, given technology's speed) we started to move into a world with television, radio, and cars (to travel farther), and it's possible to see a growing development of connection with the author, above/beyond the connection to the text.

I'm also thinking of the growing popularity of major conventions/conferences, and the growing economic feasibility of traveling (planes, buses, trains) considerable distances to see the Author or a group of Authors. (And I don't mean "Author" as literary-text only; I think Star Trek and its early conventions played a huge role in creating and making accessible a significant connection between the previous disparate or separate yellow-circle players.)

Anyway, that growing access to the Author means additional connections are established.



Some readers retain their strongest connection to the text, while others create a connection that goes directly to the Author. The upshot of this growing accessibility is that the Author's interpretation, once a thing of mostly guesswork, had the potential (not always realized in all cases, that is) to explain itself via the platform of these directly-connected readers.

While not all Authors did this, when I read fan retrospectives about the Early Modern Fandom Era (mid-60s to Early Internet Age), it's noticeable how much more the Author's presence can, or does, impact reader interpretations. The Author is not only dominating the text in some cases, but possibly even superseding it.

Note that this isn't because Authors didn't have this inclination previously. What the EMF-era gave them was a bigger megaphone for getting those Author-interpretations out to the story's fans. It is exactly the same process as Rowling's post-series interview in which she utterly rearranged canon independent of any previous hints in the text, by saying that (she'd always thought) Dumbledore was gay. Her comments, as Author, ex-cathedra, had the ability to create massive waves through the fandom, because she's got such a big megaphone -- and for some fans, the larger the megaphone, the more influence given the words spoken at that volume.

Do this enough, and the Author's ex-cathedra self-interpretation has the potential to become the intermediary (green circle) through which the reader travels to reach the original story (blue square). Similar to Rowling, Authors who significantly hawk/spin a story a la Oprah can, and have, substantially affected reader interpretations with such pre-suppositions and expectations. That's the same thing as the expansion in this image, in the readers must traverse that intermediary pre-supposition interpretation before they can even interact with the original text.



This is also the stage where, from what I can see, that early fandoms -- using this additional/new access to the author -- could then bring fanfiction to the forefront. I'm not saying fanfiction didn't exist before, only that this kind of Author-based connection allows for two things: one, the possibility of validation (via Author approval) and the possibility of recognition (from newly-connected fellow fans).

This is what, I think, [personal profile] obsession_inc is calling an Affirmational fandom: the Author is squarely (so to speak) at the center, and is the centralized authority to determine those works that appropriately border the original story (canon). In other words, the Author is the gatekeeper.

From a fan's perspective, there's a connection to the text (the dark blue line going from original-story-square to the yellow-circle-fan), which is echoed by the fan's reinterpretation via fanfiction, which is directed back at the text. It can't overlap the text, because by definition the only canonical Author can be the author of the original text... but, as we like to say when complimenting someone with, "it's like you're channeling the Author", an interpretative fan-created text can come pretty damn close.



In an Affirmational fandom, this pretty-damn-close is very much the goal, because it's an emulation of the original. Secondary but no less important is that this also puts the fan-text into the purview of the Author's gatekeeping, and thus creates potential for Authorial validation. The fan-based validation of "channeling" is a soft echo of the power of hearing that from the Author, after all. It's a series of reflecting mirrors: the fan-writers reflect the Author; the fan-texts reflect the Canon.

The Aught-generation didn't invent misbehaving fans, though, so not all fanfiction would always land neatly inside the borders set by the Author. When I look at the reported histories of such writing fandoms as those for Lackey, Bradley, and their contemporaries (getting into Early Internet Age, or about 25 years ago), it's obvious the fans' positive reaction to Authorial validation and/or fellow-fan recognition corresponds to an explosion in fan-produced responses to the original story (fanfiction).

The implosions that soon followed were mostly (from what I can tell) due to Authors ending up in an unwitting bind. They became tied to their fans on a personal level, beyond any existing connection to the original text. That makes the personal interactions a bit more tense, and the Author must either find a way to draw boundaries of what's In and what's Out (in terms of allowable manipulation of the original story), or the Author must expand to allow all, or come up with a reasonable compromise such that some borderline-transformative works are included but more radical works are kept out.

Effectively, the Author's own interpretation of the work ("it relates to and/or includes this") expands as well.



You can see part of the problem with that, if the Author's role has spread outward to embrace (or at least encompass) alternative interpretations/repetitions of the original story. Just on a purely visual level, the green circle is large enough to take up more than half the interior of the circle formed by the yellow circle fans. It's not just that the Author is no longer hidden at the center of a text, but that the Author's work has diversified into gatekeeping and boundary-setting, as well.

Frankly, I'm not surprised that some fanfiction-permitting Authors eventually begged off; if the Author's original purpose of writing was to create stories, this is a massive addition of responsibilities that are only loosely related. I mean, if an Author wanted to be an Editor, s/he would've signed up for that, instead of writing a book (or a screenplay, or a radio show, or whatever).



So, when an Author divorces hirself from the text, and breaks away from the ties of fandom, I think a small but crucial shift rippled outward from those Authors who'd previously allowed fanfiction and then retracted that permission. The Author, in some ways, gets set aside.

And here's the crucial next step, that was happening before the Internet but in which the Internet undeniably played a massive role: the connection of fans to each other as discreet individuals, and not solely via the original text.

It's true we could add these dotted lines earlier, if there were a way to represent (or distinguish) between those fans who met/gathered under an Author's umbrella, versus those who met separately. Because that's really what I'm drawing attention to, here: pre-Internet, there was snail mail, but also fax machines, and ham radio, and various other eclectic means by which fans could organized, along with the traditional cons, 'zines, and professional magazines. But when you get to the Internet's earliest years, for a truly powerful interactive experience (well, powerful for the time), that took money and expertise: to develop, to design, to manage, to pay for the software and the website.



Authors were more likely to have that power. Not because the fans were powerless, but because the Author was a central point that could be the driving force of creating a new-fangled bulletin board, a static website (if you don't count the stupid blinky tags), and so on. Even when a site was fan-built, part of what drove the aggregate fan participation was the Author (or alternately, the really progressive marketing ideas that said the Internet would be the next Big Thing).

Therefore, it seems to me no surprise that two things happened right around the same time: the ripple effect of the breakdown in compromise between fanfiction vs. canonical text -- or more precisely, misbehaving fans vs. gatekeeping Author -- and the growing exposure, for regular folks, of building, managing, and expanding their own corners of the internet.

That is, as we get into the mid-90s, more and more people were pushing beyond the limits of their knowledge/money (don't know enough, pay someone else), to create a connection-source on their own. The money was getting less of an issue (though still expensive compared to today, so not exactly chump change for everyone), and more importantly, the technology may still have been crude in some ways, but more fans had the willingness and time to learn that technology, and to use it to create internet-based community-nodes for fandom.



And by becoming a node for a fandom, independent of an Author input (and even without the Author at the center, so much as the fandom's celebration of itself at the center), the focus slowly shifts away from canon. That's not to say the original work got booted -- only that when a marginal fan (someone who feels to be standing at the edges of a fandom) creates a community-node point, it's going to be, unsurprisingly, greatly influenced by that marginality of the creating fan.

Fans who are more likely to define themselves as transgressive, seems to me, are in turn more likely to create a non-marginalized space for themselves. In plain english: they'll put their interests at the center where before the fandom put them left of center. The result of that is that the scope of fan-interpretation can expand, move sideways, and center itself not on canon but on this specific re-interpretation of the canon. Thus transgressive texts start from a central point and with each subsequent affirmation by a fan at the margin, what was affirmational becomes more and more transformational, because each step follows from the previous but the cumulative is that the destination ends up somewhere well outside the generally-accepted fandom boundaries, as a kind of ex-canon.

(This is also the root-process behind all non-canon shipping arguments: you start with a jump to the left...)

Yes, a big part of what made this liberal application of fan re-interpretations possible was the rise of geeks starting to cross-Internet cooperate in things like early Open Source and co-developed freeware or shareware; people who wanted a megaphone did have to dedicate time and energy figuring out how to master the tool. It's not like textual-fans spontaneously built the megaphones on their own; they just learned to adapt someone else's invention.

Things were coming together even if, from an Author's point of view, things were falling apart -- or being pushed apart, as it were -- and with the Author no longer willing (or allowed by the publishing company, even if secretly willing) to stand as gatekeeper, fanfiction can start pushing outwards in its transgression.

This is not to say that transgressive or radical reinterpretations were created by the Internet -- only that the Internet made it more feasible, and cheaper, and easier, for the writers of those transgressive works to find each other, independent of any gateway-Author or other intermediary. And that kind of easier connection means that ex-canonical (outside the borders of strictly affirmational canonical-based fanfiction) can then, in turn, become centerpoints for additional collections of yellow-circle-fans.



In the image above, you could consider the main dashed-blue circle (that connects the fans) as also a sort of 'outer limit' of canon. This is metaphor, not literal; it's not that everyone is measured as 'standing' inside/outside canon, as if you could even stand in relation to canon at all, except in the most nebulous of senses. The goal of this way of representing it is to demonstrate that "what is within our fandom" is no longer based on the Author's green sphere of influence/interpretation, but on the boundaries created by those fans who count themselves as "members of this fandom" and see those as "not-members" as therefore, by definition (probably) ex-canonical.

But at the same time, connections are being drawn: the light blue lines from a yellow circle to a open-box indicate a fan's fan-ness not only of the original story (the line from fan to dark-blue square) but also to fan-created texts. The dark blue lines from yellow circle to blue-bordered white square are indicating the writer of that text, which in turn creates more connections throughout the shared fandom, as readers connect to fellow writers alongside connections to the original story.

(I should also note that the reason I used a blue-bordered white square to indicate 'fan-written reinterpretation' is to riff off the notion of a blank slate. That is, fanfiction may not be blank once it's posted, but the fan-writer is using the source material as a kind of partially-empty slate upon which the fan-writer can then impose additional, personal, preferences or perspectives. These remain bordered or informed, in some way, by the original canon; this is the so-called 'intertextuality', in which a new fan-written text is 'inter'-acting with the original story, via common reliance on certain characters, world-building, story premise, whatever. The elements adopted by the fan-writer therefore define the extent of the dialogue -- the between-stories-ness -- linking the two works, original and reinterpretative.)

A last detail for that final image, above: the Author is back in the center, as the originating point of the canon. First, that's where the Author has always been, regardless of fandom interaction or perspective (or additional responsibility). Second, because as fandom develops its own interconnections, the Author's intentions are returned to being posited as existing (or to be found) within the canonical original story.

I've come across multiple references, mostly in fandom-studying sociological essays, about the importance of this canonicity -- the sacredness, in a sense, of the original story -- to the preservation of the Author's central position. The argument goes that fans, in seeing a canon as the inherent 'root' of the fanfiction, thereby are also reifying or enshrining the Author's vision of the story, even if these Authorial goals are shrouded within the original text. And to some degree, in many fandoms, the Author and/or hir vision does remain at the center, however murky the Authorial goals may be to the fans gathered around the text.

The problem, as I see it, comes from not one source but the combination of at least three main sources. The first is the growing power of the Internet to cheaply and easily connect us across timezones, countries, cultures, genders, and so on. The second is the ever-expanding regulation of copyright and intellectual property as a reaction to the terrifying unknowns (well, terrifying if you're a terrestrial corporation) of Internet chaos. And the last is the withdrawal of many Authors from fandom interaction (especially interpretative fanfiction-based fandom) due to lawyers, publishing companies, and other copyright-protective entities, along with the fact that the Internet does require time and knowledge to operate, and if you're too busy writing stories, you're probably not going to have all the time on your hands to keep up with the skill sets the fans are so rapidly assimilating.

In a sense, it's tune in, turn on, drop out... and therein lies the drawback of the Authorial retreat to the strict borders of the original story. It's true that in some fandoms, the concept of canonicity assures that the original story remains pertinent, by dint of being the fandom's source material. But this protective border around the Author's intentions can also, I think, become a prison, as well. The limitations placed on the Author (most concretely, the fear of legal consequences for getting involved in, or even acknowledging, fan re-interpretations) mean that the Author has no (permitted) way to push past the story's established boundaries to exert influence over fan interpretation.

The Author is now the one trapped within canon, while the fans are the ones able to push free of canon-limits. Where before an Author might choose to expand to encompass even broader interpretations/manipulations of the text, now the fears of copyright and legal fees and capitalistic money-issues (among other things) render the Author reliant upon the fans' continued benevolence in keeping canonicity intact.

Shorter version: if the fans stop seeing the Author's work as pivotal, the Author has no recourse, because there's no longer means to interact directly to draw the fandom back to canon as the central point. Thus, the Author is at the center, in a sense, but getting smaller all the time, because the true 'center' of the fandom can, and may, move away from the canonical story at any time.

[continued in pt2]



FYI: if you haven't noticed, here I'll say it explicitly: the use of 'analysis is my chocolate cake' as a tag indicates 'this topic is open for debate/discussion', while the 'at play' and 'league' tags mean it's genre-focused and fandom-focused respectively, and the 'half-asleep' tag means it's related to fanfiction.

Date: 5 Jun 2010 01:06 am (UTC)
starlady: the OTW logo with text "fandom is my fandom" (fandom^2)
From: [personal profile] starlady
Oh, fascinating.

And, yes. Tho', in some ways I do think that things like author blogs and twitters do allow for some subtle pushback against the shrinking of the authorial influence that you posit--authors don't usually talk about fanworks in those avenues, granted, but many fans do make passionate connections with the authors through them none the same, however one-sided those connections may be (and always were?).

Date: 12 Jun 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
princessofgeeks: (Damn Fangirls by Lotr Junkie)
From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks
here for metafandom; fascinating. am reccing! thank you!

am reading on -- one thing that strikes me immediately is that fans who write fanfic or carry on the story were only considered misbehaving in the modern era of Authorial Individuality and copyright. In the Olden Days of Yore, the material of fairy tale or the Arthur legends was fair game for anyone, and reworking and reimagining was not seen as misbehaving at all.

Of course you know all this. But I guess I got kind of hung up on the term "misbehaving".

I particularly love what you say about the author's interp, given to us through the mass media and the celebrity culture of television and even newspapers, can take over the author's own work! Or be considered a complete amalgam to it.

Tolkien did the same sort of thing, but in private correspondence that is only now getting published and compiled. So it's like you have this whole additional unfinished canon, let alone the impact of his unpublished and unfinished stuff. What's an affirmative fan to do, LOL.

thanks again.

Date: 12 Jun 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The Author is now the one trapped within canon, while the fans are the ones able to push free of canon-limits. Where before an Author might choose to expand to encompass even broader interpretations/manipulations of the text, now the fears of copyright and legal fees and capitalistic money-issues (among other things) render the Author reliant upon the fans' continued benevolence in keeping canonicity intact.

I've wondered this before: how many authors secretly and anonymously write fanfiction (or create other types of fanworks) of their own work, just to see how people will react, and for the pleasure of tinkering? If my writing ever got up a fandom, I know I would.

Date: 16 Jun 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Can you steal from yourself? Is that like derailing yourself in an oppression discussion?

Self-plagiarism is actually a pretty well-established concept in copyright law and scholarly communication ethics.

Date: 15 Jun 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
cesy: "Cesy" - An old-fashioned quill and ink (Default)
From: [personal profile] cesy
Have you seen Naomi Novik's fanfiction of her own work? That was published under her own name, though.

Date: 18 Jun 2010 05:35 pm (UTC)
ithiliana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ithiliana
From various friends recs -- I love this!

I would like to assign it to my graduate online "Internet Studies" course that starts next month if I may!

It will be very useful to them (the class is not fandom studies, but I'm using Jenkins' "Convergence Culture" and Chun's "Power and Paranoia in The Age of Fiber Optics," and am going to have them apply the methods to a case study of an internet community that is creating something, and while that isn't only fandom, Henry's "fans are early adopters and now others are doing the same thing" means that these concepts will be incredibly useful even if they aren't dealing with traditional fandom!