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Some Thoughts on Fandom, Privacy, Money, and Other Stuff - Mo's Journal
July 25th, 2008
09:57 am

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Some Thoughts on Fandom, Privacy, Money, and Other Stuff
I've been following the current big controversy in fandom with lots of interest and some sadness. Here are some thoughts I've had about it:


- I think that it should be an individual's choice whether s/he wants her/his real life name to be associated with a fannish name. If s/he chooses to associate it, it's still her/his choice how and where s/he does so. Some people will use their real first names among lj friends or at meet ups and cons (particularly those with fairly unpronounceable usernames) and still not want their full names linked to their pseuds on line. I think it's important to respect that as an individual decision. I think it's sometimes possible to slip up (e.g. I knew some people on my flist before they acquired lj usernames and I sometimes forget who knows their real names and who doesn't and could make a mistake in email or personal conversation - I do follow the convention of using the lj username on lj) but in this case it's clear that Laura was not slipping up on Fan History but purposely revealing information she ought not to have (and even changing the entry on her wiki back when people corrected it). [Note: I'm using Laura's first name rather than her lj username because she's been through a few usernames in the past few years and because she uses her own name in connection with Fan History.]

- That it's possible to find out what someone's non-fannish identity is does not mean that it's ethical to publicize the connection. I think that is the big fallacy in the "privacy" post that Laura had posted to fanthropology. She posted the same privacy guidelines to her own journal some weeks or months ago and I made that point to her then. She has since locked me out of her posts and I didn't save the comment so I can't copy and paste from it, but it was something like "I think you're conflating two things here. Participation in fandom in the ways you describe does engender the risk that some unscrupulous person will misuse information gleaned from a variety of sources, as you suggest. Where you go wrong is in suggesting that that justifies the unscrupulous person's actions. The ethics of the matter are separate from the risk."

- I do think that a lot of people overestimate the damage to their careers and to their personal lives that exposure of their fannish activities could cause. I think that's worth discussing (in a general way - I don't think it's very polite to accuse specific people of paranoia). Regardless of whether I think that an individual's fear of exposure is justified it's still the individual's choice and it's my obligation to respect it. Although I share thelastgoodname's concerns that the use of the word "outing" for these cases kind of trivializes the difference between real outing and revealing of a potentially embarrassing hobby, I think this is an area where the situations are somewhat analogous. I find that closeted people (real closeted people, I mean - not fans who hide their fannish activities) generally overestimate the risks of coming out and underestimate the costs of the closet. I think that formerly closeted people who come out often realize how poorly they judged the risks and the benefits of coming out. It's something I explore a lot in my fiction. I know many a formerly closeted person who says to himself after a long and hard coming out process (as did my version of Cyclops), "My life changed less than I thought it would." I think many fans would find that their lives would change very little if they were open about their fannishness. But it is my bedrock belief that it is their decision how, when and how much to open up. Yes, even for people on the board of OTW. Some have said that it undercuts OTW's effectiveness and is embarrassing to fandom that board members won't give their fannish identities, and I think that's a legitimate opinion to express (not one I share, but legitimate). It doesn't justify violating their privacy.

- I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to turn a hobby into one's career. I do think, for most people, doing so is doomed to failure. For every successful comic-fan-turned-comic-book-shop-owner or gourmand-turned-restaurateur there are hundreds, maybe thousands of wannabes. In fandom, there are a few people who make a living out of something related to their fannish pursuits: the aca fans, some people who sell merchandise to fans, etc. I don't fault anyone for wanting to turn something they do for fun into something that pays the bills. Still, there are ways to go about it and ways not to go about it. And trying to generate wank to drive people to your site (whether for ad dollars or to make it more attractive to sell) is clearly not the way to do it. I imagine Laura realizes that now.

- I also don't think there's anything wrong with an organization where some people are paid workers and others are volunteers. That's how most non-profits work. That's how a lot of community organizations work - both online and in person. For example, I belong to my local food coop. We have thousands of members. We all work at the coop one shift a month and we all get good food at low prices. About 50 people work at the coop as their actual jobs, and they get paid and get benefits and so on. This is a perfectly legitimate model, to my mind. What justifies the difference between what I get for my work (an ownership interest in the coop and the right to shop) and what they get (a paycheque)? Two things:
1. They do a lot more work at the coop than I do. I work 2.75 hours every four weeks. They work full time.

2. Transparency. We know when we sign up for the coop what we have to do as members and what we get for it, and how that differs from what the "coordinators" (what the paid workers are called) do and get.

My impression is that Laura had the first one at her site but not the second. I think there is no doubt that she has put lots of time and effort into Fan History. I don't know if the other admins understood that she was trying to turn it into a profit center, but I do think she was less than transparent with general users, and that is part of what engendered bad feeling.

- Although I strongly believe that Laura made some serious errors in judgment, I'm distressed to see the vehemence of some of the posts about her. I mostly feel sad for her. I feel like she has both lost all chance to turn her genuine love of fannish history into a career and also lost the hobby itself. And, it would seem, any chance of being accepted within fannish community. And yes, she brought all that on herself. But I just cannot see her as some great evil fannish presence. I feel like she's being cast as the Osama bin Laden of fandom and she's really a kid (well, young adult) who screwed up.



I will add that I'm not removing Laura from my flist and if anyone wants to defriend me because of that, that's okay. I rarely post under flock and never post fannish stuff under flock. And - in case it wasn't clear from what I say above - I want to state uncategorically that I will not reveal something said under flock (well, unless it was said by me, as in saying the comment I made on Laura's journal when she first posted her privacy message, which was under flock).

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From:mofic
Date:July 25th, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
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I chose to defriend her, just because enough odd things get said in the comments to my flocked posts that I prefer to be able to offer slightly more reassurance-of-privacy to those commenting, but I'm not going to sit around pretending to hate her.

I was thinking of you when I decided not to defriend her. I think you and I view the situation fairly similarly but we came to different conclusions on that decision. And, ultimately, I think that's because we use our journals differently.
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From:talktooloose
Date:July 25th, 2008 05:52 pm (UTC)
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Not that I want to read pages and pages of invective, but a link would be cool since I am completely out of the loop on this and find it interesting. Where do I find the thread?
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From:mofic
Date:July 25th, 2008 06:00 pm (UTC)
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Where do I find the thread?

I suppose "everywhere" is not a useful answer? I would ordinarily link the the original post that started the contretemps, but it has been deleted. http://ithiliana.livejournal.com/922604.html?format=light is probably as good an entree into the issue as anything.
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From:wneleh
Date:July 25th, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
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I do think that a lot of people overestimate the damage to their careers and to their personal lives that exposure of their fannish activities could cause. I think that's worth discussing (in a general way - I don't think it's very polite to accuse specific people of paranoia).

Do you think there's any advantage to being non-secretive about ones fannish activities, either personally or to society (general and fannish)?

- Helen
From:thelastgoodname
Date:July 25th, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
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One of the biggest parts of coming out as LGBT is that one no longer has to lie, and a lot of stress and emotional trauma disappears from life. That is one benefit about being open about any part of your life: it's stressful to lie.

Another advantage (continuing with the comparison between being gay and being fannish) would be to prove to the world that there's nothing wrong with either activity: it's entirely normal, and your Aunt Edith does it, too.
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From:wneleh
Date:July 26th, 2008 11:45 am (UTC)
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RE: The stress of secrecy and lying - I've never been that private about anything, so it doesn't really resonate with me. There are times I don't mention fanfic when it might be natural to mention another hobby, but that's almost always because I don't want to have to get into what fanfic is because I don't think, in the particular circumstance I'm in, I'll be able to explain it well.

RE: the normalization of fanfic writing - this is something I feel pretty strongly about. (And I wouldn't be very surprised if my Aunt Edith *did* write fanfic; bet she'd be good at it, too!)
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From:mofic
Date:July 25th, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC)
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Yes I do. And really, that's why I stopped being secretive about it - I saw advantages to me, personally, in not being secretive. Here are a few:

- It's a fun hobby and it's fun to talk about with people who are interested. If they're not interested they don't ask questions about it, but if you don't tell them you're doing it, they don't get an opportunity to ask questions.

- People I never would have thought of as fannish are (you for instance) and generally I've only found out we shared this because I brought it up.

- I think I'm really good at writing fanfic. I'm proud of it and I want to talk about it for that reason.

- I've put in personal ads that I write slash. I do that because I don't want to date someone who's squicked by the idea. More generally, being open about being fannish prevents hearing a lot of negative stuff about being fannish.

- Since I don't like to lie, not being open would limit my fannish activities. I don't feel I need to tell everyone I know that I write fanfic, and did keep that a secret for a while. But I wouldn't have gone to a con if I weren't comfortable answering "So where are you going?" from people at work or elsewhere.

- The old Twain thing - "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything."

- If you're not secretive, you don't have to remember who knows and who doesnt.

I don't see any particular advantages (or disadvantages) to society in greater openness, but I don't really see this as a societal issue. I really do see it as just a hobby that some think is odd.
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From:wneleh
Date:July 26th, 2008 12:47 am (UTC)
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Hmm, maybe I'm more thinking about the advantages vs. disadvantages of merging IDs.

It's a fun hobby and it's fun to talk about with people who are interested. If they're not interested they don't ask questions about it, but if you don't tell them you're doing it, they don't get an opportunity to ask questions.

I've recently very verbal about fanfic in social spheres - well, practically in every RL interaction except for work - for this reason. The work/life barrier was constructed back when I was working very few hours/week, so that I could actually get stuff done. Now that's not so much of an issue.

I think I'm really good at writing fanfic. I'm proud of it and I want to talk about it for that reason.

I don't think I'm as good, plus I worry about people reading more than I mean them to into my fic. On the up side, I've found that people in general aren't that interested in reading much unless they're into fanfic already.

I've put in personal ads that I write slash. I do that because I don't want to date someone who's squicked by the idea. More generally, being open about being fannish prevents hearing a lot of negative stuff about being fannish.

Yeah, I can see that! (C is fannish himself, and facilitates my interests as much as he can, as I do his.)

The old Twain thing - "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything."

Very true.

I don't see any particular advantages (or disadvantages) to society in greater openness, but I don't really see this as a societal issue. I really do see it as just a hobby that some think is odd.

I do, for a couple of reasons.

(1) It's frustrating when I encounter people who have no idea whatsoever what fanfic is. This is different than the other nouns I'm into - Patrick O'Brian, Tiger Woods, issues surrounding childrearing.

(2) I think slash (and explicit het, for that matter) says something very interesting about women's sexuality, something that I'd like more Great Minds tossing around.

(3) I think greater knowledge of fanfic would get more talented people writing; and some of those people might even write some schoppy smarm. And that would make me very happy.

Editing to add - in order for (1)-(3) to happen, we need a public face for fanfic that's not solely 17 and male or 12 and female...

- Helen



Edited at 2008-07-26 12:51 am (UTC)
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From:elfwreck
Date:July 26th, 2008 12:51 am (UTC)
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Very little of what you've mentioned is helped by linking your fan ID to your legal one. ("Good at writing, want to share it with friends & acquaintances" is one of them. "Fun to talk about" isn't--you can talk about fandom & fanfic w/o mentioning userIDs.)

There's a difference between being public about your involvement in an activity, and being free & open with the (potentially TMI) details thereof.

I'm not ashamed of my sex life, but I don't show photos of it to my co-workers. And if I'd told someone in confidence what positions I liked, I sure-as-hell wouldn't like to see my name on a website under "People Who Like [69]." (Hypothetical example. Not admitting anything. Not denying anything, either.)

I think that's the core issue here: not so much saying "X person is into fanfic/fandom," but saying "X legal name is attached to Y specific identity & activities in fandom."
From:thelastgoodname
Date:July 25th, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
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It's not just that I think there are differences between outing an LGBT person and the outing of a hobby. It's that I also think there are legitimate cases where outing is the best course of action (Larry Craig, for instance), and the vehement response in fandom right now -- particularly the "never, ever, ever do this" part of things -- is, I think, blinding people to those circumstances.

Rachel Moss and Laura Hale both used their real names (as far as I know), and now if someone in the future Googles them, these recent events will surface because their names are all over all sorts of posts.

Was it justifiable to use their names? Yes (particularly since they'd already suggested them to the public). Does that mean that the "central rule of fandom" is occasionally broken (and everyone agrees that it's okay to break it)? Yes. Even though Rachel Moss' online identity wasn't the one she used at Wiscon, and that connection was made without her consent. The connections between Ecks, Hale, partly_bouncy and whatever other pseudonyms Hale used are likewise not necessarily public information -- or at least weren't before recent events.

And while I agree with you that it's best to let people come out on their own terms and at their own pace, I think you're much more comfortable with that idea than I am; I'm still at the stage where I get unreasonably upset with people who aren't ready to come out yet (as LGBT; not as fans. I don't really care if people come out as fans). I'm working on becoming more sanguine.
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From:mofic
Date:July 25th, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC)
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I actually am *not* comfortable with people being in the closet (the real closet, again, not the fannish one). And I agree that there are times when outing is necessary. I really am going to write that meta post, sometime soon. But I think they're few and far between.

I think not outing people except in some really extreme situations (and Larry Craig represents one of them) is important, but it doesn't mean that it's okay to be closeted. It means that I feel there's a real downside to outing and we shouldn't ignore it. And that the way to get people to come out is often through example and sometimes through persuasion. But yes, I hate it when people are in the closet - for those people, for the people they love, and for society. I particularly hate it when it is sooooo clear from the outside that they have little or nothing to lose and so much to gain. But as someone who has always been out everywhere it's easier, I think, for me to see both the costs and the benefits. And I've experienced lots of costs - I lost my family of origin while still in my teens, for the big one, but I've had career consequences and acts of violence to deal with too - but I've never felt it wasn't worth it.

Edited at 2008-07-25 11:55 pm (UTC)
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From:dv8nation
Date:July 25th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
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Maybe people should remember that the net isn't the privacy of their own home and that anything you do here might lead back to you someday. If you use that as a guideline then you should be safe.

Privacy online exists only as far as how much what you want to keep private is worth someone else's time to find out.
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From:jennem
Date:July 26th, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
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And, maybe people should stop stating the obvious (that what you say and/or do on the internet is not private) in order to justify the purposeful and malicious behavior of an individual.

Edit: Sorry. Your comment clicked something in my head, and I went on a tangent. I'm not sure if you're attempting to justify PB/LH's behavior or not. I should have made that clear in my original comment. Yes, people should take care when posting information on the internet. I think this is an assertion that most people can get behind. But, the release of private information isn't the crux of the issue here. The behavior of the person who repeatedly, purposefully, and maliciously released the information, despite a request to refrain from doing so, is. People should be responsible for their information. But, that responsibility doesn't absolve or justify the behavior of someone who uses the information maliciously.



Edited at 2008-07-26 12:56 am (UTC)
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From:dv8nation
Date:July 26th, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)
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I've only half aware of the fan drama you're talking about and I don't really care about the details. My point is that information is never really secure online. You have to be prepared for the risk that you might run into someone online who's going to do whatever they want with your information if they get a hold it.

I don't see how my stating the reality of the situation can be seen as in any absolving anyone of anything.
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From:elfwreck
Date:July 26th, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
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Yeah, and they should remember that their home might not be secure; anyone who doesn't get heavy deadbolts and bars on their windows should just suck it up if they're burglarized; safety IRL only exists as far as they're able to protect it. [/sarcasm]

Saying "you should be more careful" is not the same as "the attackers shouldn't be penalized." Nor especially, "it's okay for them to attack like that; after all, the victim didn't take the right precautions."
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From:dv8nation
Date:July 26th, 2008 01:22 am (UTC)
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And where exactly did I say "the attackers shouldn't be penalized" and "it's okay for them to attack like that; after all, the victim didn't take the right precautions,"?
From:fantasyenabler
Date:July 25th, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC)
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I haven't had any real interaction with this person, so all I know about this is what's been posted here and there. I appreciated reading your post though. It's nice to get an idea of all of the issues involved in this kerfuffle.

Edited at 2008-07-25 10:56 pm (UTC)
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From:mofic
Date:July 26th, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
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Well, I wouldn't pretend to know what all the issues are! But this post talks about some that matter to me.
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From:rachel_martin64
Date:July 26th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
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I do think that a lot of people overestimate the damage to their careers and to their personal lives that exposure of their fannish activities could cause.

I read a similar comment, and replied to it. If I may, I would like to post my reply in your journal as well. Obviously it is your journal and you are free to delete this.

I'd like to share with you the story of what happened to a media fan at my workplace. This fan happened to be an very competent and experienced professional in the field.

At lunch, she would read SF&F novels or comic books in plain view of everyone. When people were standing around the water cooler talking about 24 or Grey's Anatomy, she'd talk about Battlestar Galactica and Stargate. When people talked about their family vacations, she would talk about attending a convention. She'd talk about the HP book.

When this person's name was mentioned in meetings, there would be a moment of silence, raised eyebrows, knowing grins, and sometimes, outright laughter. She was passed over for heading up several important projects. She was passed over for an appointment to a supervisory position. People openly wondered about her fitness to be a parent. Junior staffers openly mocked her.

All this, and she never wrote a word of fanfic.

Now imagine if she had been a slash writer.

I particularly hate it when it is sooooo clear from the outside that they have little or nothing to lose and so much to gain.

A person knows his/her own situation better than any outsider looking in.
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From:mofic
Date:July 26th, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)
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A person knows his/her own situation better than any outsider looking in.

I don't think that's always true. But we can certainly agree to disagree.

I'm not saying there are never negative consequences of exposure of fannish involvement. I'm just saying that a lot of people overestimate them, and that a lot - over time - come to realize that they've done so, when it was obvious to outsiders before. I'm not commenting on anyone's specific situation. Well, except to say that if Barack Obama writes slash, I'd rather he wait until after the election to reveal that fact.
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From:wneleh
Date:July 26th, 2008 10:45 pm (UTC)
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I read this, and think this is all the more reason for those of us who don't live in this sort of world to try to normalize fannishness and fanfic writing, with the hope of some bleed-through into more mundane locales.

(I got my first post-PhD job based on the rec of someone I met on a Patrick O'Brian fan list, and that's how she presented me to her boss; most of the conference rooms in my building are named for ST:TNG references.)

- Helen, happy to live the geek life in Eastern MA!
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From:lilacsigil
Date:July 26th, 2008 05:58 am (UTC)
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Personally, I see a big difference between a food co-op and fanfic - for example, I do not participate in fic-for-charity auctions because that's using other people's copyrighted work for profit. I think this and organisations like FanLib are the quickest way to have the actual copyright owners take writers to court - it's not the exposure per se, it's the fact that cash is involved. This is not the same thing as aca fans, though it may be the same thing as people who sell unlicensed merchandise. While I would love for fanfic and other fan creations to be legal, it's currently in a great big grey area, and I'd much rather that it stayed there than was actively hunted down.

I would compare the fandom history project to aca fans, not to fic writers, and I don't, in fact, have a problem with her trying to make money from it - it's a non-fiction project. The problem I have is the way she tried to do it, as you list above. I don't think she's evil, but I think she is deeply stupid to do everything she possibly can, over a long period of time, to antagonise and hurt her potential audience!
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From:mofic
Date:July 26th, 2008 01:11 pm (UTC)
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Personally, I see a big difference between a food co-op and fanfic - for example, I do not participate in fic-for-charity auctions because that's using other people's copyrighted work for profit.

That's an interesting stand. Anyway, I didn't mean to suggest that a coop was analogous to all aspects of fanfic. I was just responding to the argument I've seen a lot that Laura's attempts at marketing her site were wrong specifically because she would make money on it but others who worked on it would not. I'm saying that the idea of a model where some get paid and some are volunteers is not inherently wrong or even inherently unusual.

I don't think she's evil, but I think she is deeply stupid to do everything she possibly can, over a long period of time, to antagonise and hurt her potential audience!

That is the puzzle to me. I have no idea if there is a market for something like Fan History or not. But I know that if there is, it can only make money if it's well-respected. And any potential buyer would look around and see all the anger against her and run the other way.

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From:franzeska
Date:July 26th, 2008 07:35 am (UTC)
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I feel like she has both lost all chance to turn her genuine love of fannish history into a career and also lost the hobby itself.

You know, I'd be more inclined to feel sorry for Laura if I'd ever read a piece of writing from her that struck me as either an accurate representation of history or remotely well written. Incoherent spewing of bias and rampant grudgewanking don't really make me feel sympathetic even if people may be getting a little overly dramatic with their condemnations.
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