Mo (mofic) wrote,

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Fandom Strife, Sunscreen and Credulousness - an outsider's view of the constantine affair

I've read most of charlottelennox's master work, and followed some of the links. I've read the comments on fanthropology on the whole affair and discussed it a bit with friends. I'm not in HP fandom and don't know any of the people involved. I'm sad for people who got hurt by this and kind of fascinated by it. I was even kind of amused by it, fora few chapters. I stopped finding it funny when we get to the part about harrassing a woman with a terminal illness. The comment I relate to the most is the one in the fanthropology post from phoebesmum: So very different, I'm glad to say, from the home life of my own dear fandom. I can't imagine this - or anything remotely like it - happening in X-Men fandom.

The whole affair has made me reflect back on things I believed were true and turned out not to be. I think in my years online I've learned a lot about what to believe and what to investigate and what to just kind of take with a grain of salt.

I read Charlotte's account and feel quite sure I would have known constantine to be a poseur and the sockpuppets she created to attack her to not be genuine. Of course, that's very easy to say looking back, but I still think I would have. Her "nutty Christians" are too nutty and not Christian enough to be credible. They're too flat. If I were betaing the story, I'd say the author should work on these characters a little more, flesh them out. Even a character who shows up briefly can give a sense of depth, if the author knows the characters well. These ones were lacking something that would make them seem like real people, seen briefly, rather than creations to serve the author's purpose. Beyond lack of depth, they also are too conveniently there just for a purpose. They play into Dionne's - and fandom's - hands too easily. Big Name Sinners? I don't think so. That's a BNF's or BNFWannabe's fantasy of how the "nutty Christians" would label her.

Her personal stories were no more credible to me than the sockpuppets. The humorous encounter with the crazy homophobic mother at the day care does not ring true at all. I think anyone who knows toddlers and day cares would see it as a story she made up, not a real incident, even aside from the objections charlottelennox raises.

I think I read online fairly skeptically. I don't assume everybody's lying by any means. I think the vast majority of people represent themselves quite accurately online, although some have a somewhat different online personality from the way they interact in person. I don't see the latter as mendacity at all, just different styles in different situations.

There's no denying, though, that it's easy to be someone you aren't online and some take advantage of that ease. I'm not talking about pseudonyms, which are very common in fandom, or even about keeping one's actual identity secret, which some people do for perfectly legitimate reasons. I'm talking about deceiving one's online associates about one's real life. Sometimes that's done in a grand way, making up a whole new persona for online interactions. I have a t-shirt with a cartoon of a dog sitting at a computer screen thinking "No one knows you're a dog on the internet." I think that cross-species deception is fairly rare :-), but I've seen some very elaborate deceptions where people did pose as someone of a different sex, race, generation, etc.

More common, I think, is an exaggeration that doesn't feel to the person doing it as so deceptive. I encounter a lot more successful models, authors, artists of various kinds, and people who've had numerous careers online than I do in any other venue. I think some of those people really are who they say and really have had all those work experiences. I think some others are talking about what they wish their careers had been or where they hope their careers would be in a few years, and just fudging it a little, thinking "no harm no foul." mina_de_malfois does a very good job of lightheartedly representing that behavior with her fictional BNF, who presents her real life as somewhat grander than it actually is. I heartily recommend her stories (I did a review of them here).

I've been online since 1995. I've only been in fandom since 2000. My first online experiences were in parenting communities. My youngest daughter was born in 1995 and I came back to work when she was 8 weeks old. I used to read list mail while pumping breastmilk at work. I became active in attachment parenting/breastfeeding and lesbian parenting online communities. I've met some of my closest friends through those venues.

I'm less credulous than I used to be when I was first online. A couple of incidents - one very public and one more personal - wised me up. The first was in 1997. Like millions of other netizens,
I received a copy of "Kurt Vonnegut's Address to the Graduating Class of MIT." It began with that famous line "Wear sunscreen." I quite enjoyed it and also was really puzzled by it. "Why," I asked, "does Kurt Vonnegut - who is a man in his sixties at least - sound like a woman my age?" I asked that of a few friends, of my then spouse, and we mused over it. We wondered if he might be working on a novel in which he was writing something from the POV of a woman in her forties and it had kind of spilled into his address. We wondered if his wife had written the speech for him. What we didn't consider as a possibility was the truth: Kurt Vonnegut had nothing to do with this speech (which is quite fun and can be found here). It was an op ed piece in the Chicago Herald Tribune by a reporter named Mary Schmich, a woman my age. She wrote a funny follow up piece to the hoax entitled iirc "I am Kurt Vonnegut."

Now, let me make clear that I was not some credulous newbie who believed that "gullible" isn't in the dictionary. I had been an early reader of Brunvand. I had frequented afu in my usenet days. I knew about hoaxes and urban legends. Still, it took Kurt Vonnegut's address to the graduating class of MIT to make me look for hoaxes in my inbox. Now I check snopes and other sites all the time. I no longer jump through mental hoops to make something true that doesn't seem right. I recognize that Occam's Razor Scooter :-) points to the unlikely being untrue, but at the same time recognize that unlikely things do happen. I check them out and find out which is the case in a particular incident.

The more personal example was on attachment parenting lists. I won't go into details but I was part of a successful troll hunting team that discovered that one cross-dressing, breastfeeding-fetishizing man was on several of the lists, including some with pretty strict entrance requirements (e.g. you had to be nominated by someone already onlist). Because he used several different personae, it was very hard to eliminate them all. OTOH, because he used several different personae from one IP address and with one AOL account (albeit multiple screen names) we eventually did manage to find them. His main persona was someone I had judged incredibly stupid because she seemed unable to remember even basic details of her life. I now look at that particular kind of stupidity a little differently.

I've met more than 100 people in person whom I first knew online and they are usually pretty much as I expect. Similarly with those who I only know online - as I get to know them better, pieces fill in the puzzle. That's how it is with people who are telling the truth. You find out about their lives in a haphazard way, but the things you find out fit together with what you already know.

I don't get surprised much anymore. When something seems a little off, I question it. Not to the individual, generally, just to myself. Sometimes I just laugh a little, privately or with a friend ("Soandso is telling us some more about her career as a lion tamer on list"). Sometimes I investigate. I have found it's pretty easy to find people's real identities and see how they stack up against their assumed online histories. In most cases, I've found that kind of investigation kind of illuminating, and I've felt like I understand why people have stretched or broken the truth, even if I don't exactly condone it.

I haven't done what charlottelennox did when I've found out that people weren't telling the truth in some aspect. I haven't exposed anyone and can't see doing so. I see charlottelennox's expose as indicative of just how extreme behavior of various kinds was in certain corners of HP fandom. I see it in the content, but I see it in the fact of writing and publishing it, too. I'm bemused, even shocked by the following:

- That some people were so credulous as to believe constantine's stories, even with exposure to her over years. It's a lot easier to maintain a credible lie with brief exposure, but when people were interacting with her (both online and in person) I would think that some of the holes and contradictions would become obvious after a while. As Twain said, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." I do recognize that charlottelennox and her associates realized that they were dealing with a phony, but I'm surprised by those who apparently did not.

- Can people really care so much about pairings in Harry Potter as to develop enmity over that? That seems to be at the root of the schism in the fandom, if the story is presented accurately. I understand strong feelings about pairings, even if I don't personally have strong feelings about pairings (although I write Scott/Logan I read Scott/Almostanybody and Logan/Almostanybody. I'm interested in their characters). I've seen people only want to read or write their OTP. I've seen people deem certain pairings implausible, disgusting. I've seen someone in X-Men fandom say "I would rather poke my eyes out with a spork than read Scott/Jean." I've seen on x_edit people saying "Absolutely no slash" and felt a little offended by that (particularly since it was most of the people offering to beta). What I haven't seen is it go from strong feelings about pairings of fictional people to strong feelings about real people. That's the part that puzzles me. I'll quote phoebesmum again: So very different, I'm glad to say, from the home life of my own dear fandom.

- Can people - grown women - care so much about getting in with the "right crowd" in HP fandom to go to the lengths constantine seems to have gone to? I just love fandom in general and fanfic in particular. This is the best hobby I've ever had - creative, stimulating, fun, congenial, full of interesting people. But it is a hobby. Aside from the ethics of it, aside from the poor taste, how could someone feel it was worth the time it must have taken her to create such an elaborate deception? Did she actually manage to write fiction as well, or was deception her main fannish activity? Did she manage to hold down a job, maintain a family life, have an active offline social life during this time?

- Can someone (or a group of people, since charlottelennox had help) care so much about all this to document it to that extent? It's amazingly comprehensive. It's very well written. She's got an axe to grind and she's up front about that, which I respect. But what does it take to go from observing, snarking with one's friends ("There she goes again") and rolling eyes to writing an exhaustive history of five years of deception? What makes that worthwhile an endeavor to the author of it? I'd love to know.

I've been in bed for most of the past couple of days (had some minor surgery on Monday and have to recuperate) and spending much more time reading LJ than I usually do. These random ramblings are the result.
Tags: essays, livejournal, musings

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