I’m relatively new to fandom but in the few years I’ve been involved I’ve heard a lot of fear expressed - fear of exposure of fannish activities to non-fen. It seems to be very common among fanfic writers and readers, and particularly so among those involved in “adult” fanfic. (I’ve never really understood using the word “adult” to refer to sexual activity; I always felt it should refer to monitoring cholesterol or calculating mortgage interest or having impacted wisdom teeth, but I digress.) I’ve seen a few distinct types of fear of exposure. I thought it might be interesting to my f-list if I described them as I see them, as well as describing my own level of fear with each one. I’d be very interested in others’ opinions (particularly dissenting opinions) on both the types of fears and the sources of them.
Fear of Personal Exposure - a number of fanfic readers and writers make clear that people in their day-to-day lives don’t know about their fannish involvement. Fen express (both overtly and through their actions) various levels of fear that the fannish activity will become known. Many people write under pseudonyms. Some disclose their real names to all, some to a select few, some to no one. Fanfic writers express fears that knowledge of their fannish activities could lead to personal problems with family and friends, to loss of employment, and/or to a general negative feeling among their associates.
mofic and this fear – very minor. I did feel this fairly acutely when I began writing. I thought it was a weird hobby and people of my acquaintance, if they knew about it, would conclude that I am a weird person. I worried about the explicit sex in the stories and about the creepiness. I over-identified with my characters, I think, or at least I feared that others would over-identify me with them (e.g. “She writes about characters having a lot of sex; she must be sexually obsessed” or “She writes about people doing creepy things; she must be a creepy person.”)
When I first began writing slash it was a Deep Dark Secret (DDS) because of those fears. The problem with keeping it a DDS, though, was that it’s such fun to do and I wanted to share the fun with my friends. So, I started telling people, one by one. And I found that no one expressed – at least to me – a negative feeling about it at all. Some people were interested; some weren’t; some feigned a slight interest out of politeness or kindness; some told me that they too write or read slash. By far the most common reaction was surprise that I find the time to do this. I think the reactions of my friends and family were typical of reactions to hobbies in general. My fear receded and eventually disappeared. I write under a pseudonym but I don’t hide my real name in fannish circles or my fannish activities in other circles. I no longer live in fear.
Fear that Fannish Behavior of Others Will Reflect Badly on Them – A good example of this (and unfortunately I don’t remember the specifics – perhaps someone else does) was recent discussion of an incident where a fan gave a gift to a popular actor: a box of sexually related materials. I was surprised at how strong fan reactions were to this in many venues. People seemed to take it very personally that someone would do this, felt that this behavior reflected badly on fandom as a whole and on the people discussing it in particular. They expressed anger, but it seemed motivated by fear to me. It reminded me of my grandmother who would react to any publicity of untoward behavior by a Jew with “What will the goyim say?” I found it more understandable in her case, I think. Where are the anti-fan pogroms that lead people to fear opprobrium or danger because of one fan’s behavior?
mofic and this fear – none. I file this kind of incident under Crazy People Doing Crazy Things. I don’t feel affected by it personally at all. Maybe I don’t identify strongly enough as a fan to feel threatened by other fans’ behavior. Maybe I don’t feel personal stigma for my fannish activities enough (see above) to feel reflected stigma. At any rate, it was all just shrug-worthy to me.
Fear that Fannish Behavior Will Cause Decrease in Purchase of Source Text Material – that’s where I came in on this one. The argument (and I fear I can’t do it justice since I don’t really buy it) is that if a product becomes associated in the public mind with behavior considered taboo or even just distasteful, that distaste will translate to distaste with the canon material and adversely affect sales. So, for example, if the public at large were to realize that some Harry Potter fen write sexually explicit fanfic featuring child characters, then parents would be reluctant to buy HP books and movies for their children.
mofic and this fear – very minor. I just don’t think it works that way. IME when people have negative reactions to fannish activities like slash and sexually explicit fanfic those negative reactions manifest themselves as hostility towards the fen, not towards canon. In fact, they often manifest themselves as a kind of hostility towards fen that the hostile individual views as protective of canon. So, those who disapprove of X-Men slash (which is what I write, so I’m most familiar with the hostile reactions to that genre) get angry that anyone would impose homosexual desire and/or activity on what they see as “innocent” comic books or movies. The anti-slash folks often also see themselves as protecting the “innocent” consumers of canon from what they see as the perversions of slash (e.g. the argument that canon text is aimed at children, who might inadvertently come across slash and be corrupted).
I won’t say it’s out of the question that someone might choose not to buy particular canon texts because of fannish activity. In fact, partly_bouncy’s survey found some who said they would make such decisions. I just don’t see it as something that would happen enough to affect market share of a popular commodity like X-Men or Harry Potter.
Fear that Behavior of Certain Fans Will Cause the Creators of Canon Material to Take Action Against Fans in General – This one was also discussed in a lot of meta recently, when a woman named Lori Jareo was found to be selling her vanity-published novel-length Star Wars fanfic via amazon.com and bandn.com. There was an outpouring of anger in many venues, and a lot of the angry writing expressed fear very directly – fear that Jareo’s actions would cause Lucas et al not only to clamp down on her, but on all Star Wars fanfic. “She could ruin things for all of us” was an often expressed sentiment.
mofic and this fear – none. I file this one under Stupid People Doing Stupid Things. I know Lori Jareo is not the first stupid fan to come to the attention of canon producers and I dare say she won’t be the last. Star Wars fandom and Star Wars fanfic have been around as long as Star Wars has. I think most canon producers tacitly approve of fanfic, since it generates interest in canon (I realize that there are exceptions. I’m told Anne Rice is a notable one). I think even should Lucas (or JKR or Marvel or DC) decide they disapprove and are going to clamp down, they couldn’t kill fandom. If they close down one site or if a popular one no longer accepts a particular kind of fanfic (like when ffnet stopped taking NC/17 stories) people will find other venues. When Yahoogroups deleted the Master-Apprentice list for supposed TOS infractions, it was recreated within days – as another Yahoogroup. If that hadn’t worked it would have gone elsewhere. Fandom and fanfic associated with very popular source text is just so large, multi-faceted, multi-located and resilient that I firmly believe it can’t be killed.
Okay, so all those fears of exposure I hear about apply to me very little or not at all. What am I scared of, fannishly? A few things:
- Running out of ideas for fanfic. It hasn’t happened yet, and in fact, if I ever finish the series I’m working on I have two in the hopper with a basic plot and notes. I hope that X3 will give me more ideas. I might write in another fandom, as well, if I run out of things to say about the X-Men. Yet I find this to be a salient fear for me. Why? I think it’s just because I enjoy it so much that I worry about it ending.
- Running out of readers. I do write for myself, in the sense that I write what I want to, but I love that people read and enjoy the stories. I worry every time I publish that the story or series will just sink into an abyss, that no one will read it or comment on it. Again, hasn’t happened yet, but the prospect frightens me.
- Running out of steam. Sometimes I can write 5000-10,000 words in a week; sometimes I go weeks without writing any fiction. I’m in the middle of a series now, and it’s slow going. I've got five stories and 14,000 words written. It’s an X2 one and I had hoped to have it done, beta’ed and published before X3. That seems unlikely now. I’m pretty ready to accept that, and will still publish it. Hell, I’m still publishing X1 series years after the second one came out. I do worry, though, that I won’t finish this one. I’ve worried that at the half-way point with all of them, I think. Again, it hasn’t happened yet. But does it scare me? As Logan says to Rogue when she asks him if it hurts when the claws come out, “Every time.”
Last topic of this very long post: Why does metafandom hate me? I love metafandom. I’ve found interesting discussions and interesting people through that community’s posts. I don’t really think a community of over 700 people could all hate me. Still, I don’t understand why I’ve been rejected by metafandom. ::sniff:: They used to pick up my meta posts. In fact, that’s how I first heard about the community – I got a bunch of people commenting who said “Here via metafandom”. But they haven’t used any of my meta for months and months. I think I still give good meta, but they’ve deserted me entirely. Ah well, I guess my love will have to be unrequited.
If anyone has gotten this far, I’d love to hear your views on –
Fears you see among fen
Fears you experience in connection with your fannish activities
How to make metafandom love, or at least notice me again?
Anything else this post makes you think about.