|Ceri B. (ceri) wrote,|
@ 2009-06-07 01:18 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||fandom, the fail before the fail|
The term first came into use at the Protestant Reformation, when it was employed by Martin Luther to designate the teachings of Johannes Agricola and his sectaries, who, pushing a mistaken and perverted interpretation of the Reformer's doctrine of justification by faith alone to a far-reaching but logical conclusion, asserted that, as good works do not promote salvation, so neither do evil works hinder it; and, as all Christians are necessarily sanctified by their very vocation and profession, so as justified Christians, they are incapable of losing their spiritual holiness, justification, and final salvation by any act of disobedience to, or even by any direct violation of the law of God.That is, once you're in, you can never push yourself out, or ever be pushed out, because nothing you can do can ever invalidate the fact of your promotion into the ranks of the favored. You're one of the elect, that is, "chosen as the object of mercy or Divine favour, as set apart for eternal life". You've seen the concept around. Fandom as I entered it in the late '70s was distinctly antinomian.
At that point it was, as a network of groups and transitory or enduring institutions, something like forty or fifty years old—old enough that a lot of the founders were gone and the survivors old men (and a few old women), but still with ties to them and their situation. Fandom originated at a time when ethnic divisions within white America (and white Western society generally) mattered more to more people than they do now. You'll find a lot of "ethnic" names in early fandom—a lot of Jewish people, a lot of people from other relatiely marginalized communities, too. Combine that with the overwhelmingly bookish, intellectual, often autodidactic outsider nature of a lot of old-time members—a lot of whom had grown up in subcultures where intellectualism was seen as selling out, and all of them in a time well before the "triumph of the geeks"—and you get, unsurprisingly, an environment where group solidarity is a very high priority.
And that's not a bad thing, in itself. It's very good indeed to know as an outsider that there are people prepared to believe you, to want to protect and support you, to help you get to your shared goals. Everybody needs that: we're a social species. after all. Our bodies and souls need companionship.
It becomes a bad thing when you face the problem of someone doing genuinely bad things, either to others in the community or to people outside, and decide that for the good of the community, you have to hush it up. That's where solidarity turns antinomian. And this happened sometime before I came along. When problems came up within the community, there was strong pressure from individuals with influence to keep things quiet, to settle disputes before they could go public, to (for instance) warn women privately about male convention guests they might want to avoid rather than demanding that the men stop their harassing behavior or lose their invitations and privileges. So for the sake of the comfort of the elect and a façade of unity, everything could and did get covered up: rape, homophobia, domestic abuse, on and on. Because breaking the visible solidarity of fandom came to seem the ultimate crime, the thing that would destroy one's fannish identity and cast one back out into the sea of mundane humanity at large.
(An important related topic that I'm not going to take up in this post is how such a system ends up reinforcing the status of those already entrenched.)
This, I think, is actually the crucial difference between the fannish tradition I joined and the one that flows into media commentary and the web of LiveJournal communities alert to bias and privilege. The name "media fandom" is a '70s coinage, I think, but the practice of it...someone want to help me out here? Obviously Star Trek was a crucial catalyst, and so was Dark Shadows. How much was there before those? Anyway, we're looking here at a post-World War II spin on culture identity, emerging along with several liberation movements, and no longer assuming that the only available choices are assimilation or existence as a self-identified outsider culture. For one thing, it involved more people whose standing wasn't a matter of self-identification. But even among people who had choices about how much they wished to identify with the mainstream or not, there was a different set of starting points.
One of those, of course, is that those who want to be part of a community have an obligation to it for its collective health, and that this involves being willing to give criticism and to receive it. Expulsion isn't the ultimate crime; acting in a way that makes it seem desirable for others to push themselves away from you is worse. There's a three-fold set of duties at work, it looks to me from my vantage point: to give criticism when it seems necessary, to apologize for harm given when it's pointed out, and to accept apologies given by people who show that they're doing something to improve. This creates a vastly different social dynamic. It can go bad like any other, of course—see above re social species, and the fact of mobs, misunderstandings escalated beyond easy recovery, and all that stuff. But duh. People are imperfect. It seems to me to, despite all, generate a much stronger and more sustainable movement toward a shared social awareness than the tradition I come from.
This is what's been bugging me about the emphasis on particular tools and methods and paces of interaction. Tools suggest possibilities and make some choices harder to carry out than others, but it's values chosen on the human level that shape tools' use and the overall dynamics of the community.
PS. Someday I'm going to learn to write short posts about important subjects. But that day is not this day.