Mo (mofic) wrote,

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).
Tags: fannish ethics, pseudonyms
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