Insomnia (insomnia) wrote,

Sometimes -- well, quite often really -- the best things I write are in the form of replies that get buried somewhere in LJland and lost forever, but occasionally I rescue them and repost them here, so with that in mind, I wanted to post a rather lengthy reply of mine to a very short comment someone made elsewhere, regarding the whole LJ fandom dispute:

"If "fandom" users would grow up an find a better hobby..." 

My response:

I don't think it's appropriate to suggest that those interested in fandom should grow up and get better hobbies, in large part because:

1> What they do is generally quite innocent in nature, and generally positive.
2> Demographically, they most likely *ARE* growing up and moving on to new hobbies over time. 

(This, and, of course, they have every legal right to do so.)

In his remarks at SXSW 2007, futurist/cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling strongly critiqued fandom writing as being inherently a genre where no truely good works will ever be developped, as all of the work is by its very nature derivative. 

"Fan art is terrible. It is not good and it's never gonna be good. Mary Sue stories by fan teens, who are so stricken that they must write Harry Potter fan-fiction...that's not good writing...there's no good way to tart it up."

While I think that Sterling is interesting -- and interested in -- many important things, well... he's often a bit off-base on his rants. That doesn't mean I don't value his critiques -- they're points to keep in mind -- but I usually view them as the obstacles in front of the steamroller of change.

And the thing is, fan art has become a kind of steamroller. It doesn't matter whether you like it or think that it's good or bad, because there are plenty of people out there who do. Just like manga and anime fans in Japan have literally created a very large sub-economy derivative of -- and in addition to -- larger commercial products, fandom in America is starting to do the same thing -- it can't be easily limited to or dismissed as Malfoy/Potter homoerotic hijinks. Frankly, I think that Sterling's remarks are an excessive generalization, and that it's a real stretch to suggest that works are inherently handicapped if you're writing about established characters. 

Case in point -- in the days and weeks prior to the release of the latest Harry Potter novel, a version was released which purported to be a leaked version of the final novel. Indeed, many professional reviewers read the version and were quite imporessed, and were forced to ask around to determine whether it was JK Rowling, only to find out it was something created by a fandom writer.

So, which novel could potentially be considered "good"? The fandom novel, or JK Rowlings? Weren't *both* inherently derivative, especially by the seventh iteration?

Likewise, you oould say the same about genre-related novels. Take Poppy Z. Brite, for example... she is now an older, more established writer than the 20something year-old, gothier version of herself who wrote "Lost Souls" and "Exquisite Corpse", which were considered to be major books in the vampire/horror genre. Brite combined some very fandom-orinted subjects -- homoeroticism, gothic teen angst, vampirism -- into works that were seen as bringing "fresh blood" to a genre that was at the time pretty stale and overpopulated by self-derivative Anne Rice books.

And the thing is, Brite often curses ever having written such novels, and sometimes derides the fans of just her early work, which has remained consistantly more popular than her recent work which are dark comedies revolving around restaurants / food... which, frankly, is itself yet another fairly popular, established, and potentially limiting genre, both for writers and for television. Think Chef! (British & U.S. version), numerous Japanese doramas revolving around foods/restaurants, numerous Chinese food-oriented movies & dramas, etc.

In short, it's pretty much *ALL* derivative... and professional, established writers are the ones who have the most to lose by admitting this basic truth, because then they put themselves on an equal level with everyone else... (except, of course, that professional writers should be considerably better writers, on average, than their audience.) Still, it must be frustrating to them to see all these other people writing about their characters, writing or suggesting improvements or modifications to their works, and getting a kind of instant feedback/modification loop on their works. Unlike individual authors, fandom writers work with a built-in, immediate "feedback loop"... in that sense, they might actually be capable of getting better through peer review.

If you think about it, the JK Rowling's of the world used to have to compete basically against themselves when they wrote their sequels. Now they must try to please, appease, and even outdo their own fans, who are increasingly vocal about their wishes and where they want to see "their" characters go.

I say "their" characters, because ultimately that's the big difference. When you put something out there for an audience nowadays, ownership becomes a very nebulous thing. Your book can be written without you, your song can be remixed, mashed up, or sampled and used in a more successful, popular rap release. 

So, is all this derivativeness a good thing, or a very damaging thing? Although it does have some negative effects, certainly, I would have to say that overall, it's a great thing. In the same way that the Harry Potter series got lots of young people reading again, it also got all sorts of firsttimers writing again. Fandom may seem like a crutch or a copout, but if you think about it, it can be a bit like training wheels on a bicycle... a stable -- if somewhat restricting -- foundation for the incredbily arbitrary, openended, unstable idea of writing. That which makes it restrictive also makes it easier for anyone to begin writing and creating something. It may not be a *good* something, but it's definitely a start.

And getting people -- especially young people -- to write is a VERY good thing. A few of these fandom writers may quite possibly become professionals themselves one day, or at least will hopefully become better writers.

Consider this: a person's ability to write and effectively communicate is the leading indicator of their future career success... more than education, more than background, more than IQ.

So really, how is this not a potentially good thing, as far as hobbies go? Beats knitting. Just the task of trying to write in an established writer's style is pretty damn good mental exercise, because it forces you to think, consciously or subconsciously, about how an established professional might express themselves.

To me, the argument boils down to one where that which is inclusive, uncontrolled, and unrestricted in expression faces off against that which is exclusive, centrally controlled, and tightly restricted in expression. Given such a debate, it's really hard for me to not side with fandom, even if I don't generally care to partake.

I'm on the side of free speech, freedom of expression, and openness to the greatest degree possible, whether we're talking copyright law, patent law, or what some fandom writer chooses to post to their LJ. It's all part of a larger struggle, and I think it's a pretty important one too.

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