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[personal profile] ceri
This post is a response, kind of, to Oliviacirce's very excellent thoughts about different parts of the sf fan world. Read them first.

Nonetheless, I have to dissent some. Because some of the commenters are egging each other on in an Othering of old-time, print-oriented fans that leads to a description that is clearly and demonstrably false not just for the fan I know best (me) but for many of the fans and pros I've known over the decades. I'm going to lay out my criticisms first, and then my points of agreement.

Part 1: The Criticism

First, I want to talk about mailing lists and Usenet. These are both largely history now, but for fifteen years or so - from the late '70s or early '80s through to the mid '90s - these were major vessels of sf readers' interactions. In their heyday, the rec.arts.sf.* newsgroups carried thousands of messages every day, and sf-related mailing lists...it's impossible to guess. Thousands more, certainly. And there were related newsgroups dedicated to collaborative storytelling at all degrees of formal organization, exchanges of fanfic, and a lot more. We regulars used them very, very much as active fans now use LiveJournal, with the refreshing every few minutes when you ought to be working and everything. :)

There were also thriving vigorous communities in the online services: AOL, CompuServe, the Well, and the one I loved best and miss most, GEnie. GEnie offered rate breaks and free accounts to people they thought would attract customers, and that included a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing. I made a lot of friends there among both fans and pros (some of whom I owe coming-out mail to, because they were good to me in times of stress). There was serious stuff and silly, analytical and admiring, the whole gamut.

So when I see the assertion that as a group, print-oriented old time fans don't know how to deal with extensive cross-linked multi-threaded fast-paced discussion, all I can do is cough and mutter "bullshit". It's true for some. But there are those of us, fan and pro, who wrote millions of words over the decades in that sort of environment, and who loved doing it. It is specifically true of a fair number of the people being criticized in sundry *fail matters. The problem is not that they don't how to use the net, and after a while it starts to feel pretty insulting to see the assertion that it is. I hate to risk sounding like a grumpy old fart here, but if you go look at a week's worth of threads at, say, the Nielsen Haydens' weblog Making Light, you will find easily accessible refutations of a lot of facile generations.

Take the posts there as of 9:30 am Pacific time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009.
  • An innovative approach by an eBay vendor to the problem of reliable color description for fabric sales. 126 comments, including a link to and discussion of an online test for color distinguishing ability that confirms something I've been suspecting and wondering about my own vision for years.
  • "The jetpack is a lie". 170 comments, sprawling all over futurology gone awry and drifting into sodomy among dinosaurs. No, seriously. C'mon, any net regular reading this knows how that can go.
  • A request for back-end technical help. 139 comments, with offers of help experienced and otherwise.
  • "Darn those deconstructionists and their crazy rock and roll". 166 comments. The post is mostly a quote from another blogger beautifully demolishing the sheer ignorance of a lot of right-wing gerfuffle about eeevul academics. The thread is contentious and interesting, in that a lot of sf fandom's own bugaboos about academics come in for informed prodding and debunking; I see some minds being changed.
  • A bizarre episode of early 20th century New England history. 50 comments, including lots more historical detail.
That takes us back to May 25th, and doesn't include the active threads started early. Read them and you will find folks who know how to use the net using it for wide-ranging discourse just as much as any busy LJ community or linkfest.

Please, if you're going to make assertions about what others aren't doing, check a little first. I've picked one example here because the Nielsen Haydens come up a lot, but I could go on to point at others as well.

The other thing that particularly bugs me is the idea that appropriation, reuse, remixing, extension, and the like are somehow basically alien to the print-oriented part of fandom. Um. There's filk songs, to start with. There's the art room at any convention. There's the decades-long history of shared worlds both professional and purely for the love of it. A fair number of pros also write fanfic, some under pen names and some not - Stephen Brust put out a Firefly novel publicly, and said what amounts to "I think this is a legitimate exercise, and if the lawyers for the property feel otherwise they can come talk to me about it", for instance. There are die-hard "mine mine mine" IP enthusiasts, and there's Cory Doctorow, as much an established member of our shared scene as any other. There's a constant flow of for-the-love of it projects like the Calamity Jane Austin series.

Part 2: The Agreement

Now, I said I wasn't only going to write criticism, and I meant it. I do agree that there are things deeply out of whack with what I continue to think of as my part of the fan world, and I think that "privilege" is the cornerstone of the problem.

Pre-Web fandom (not pre-Internet: the Internet has been used for fannish purposes since the early 1970s, yes, '70s) has never been exclusively white, or male, or middle-class, or cis, or straight. But there really is a qualitative difference in the representation of people of color and not-heteronormative people in Web-based fan communities. Note the distinction here between fandom as an institution and fans as people. It wasn't the universe of fans that so privileged; deadbrowalking's wild unicorn herd check in is absolutely all the refutation any honest person will ever need for that idea. But fandom as the network of fans, fans turned pros, and pros coming into the network after starting to make a living at it, that was and is privileged in its membership.

Note that this fact has never wholly escaped fannish attention. In fact it's been discussed at cons, in fanzines, and online as long as I've been around. It's just that pretty much all of us taking part in the discussion had blind spots we never recognized. In retrospect, uncomfortable as it is to admit, yeah, there was prejudice at work in that blindness, too: thinking back, I see chances to learn that I could have taken but passed up because of rejecting the messenger. The power of Web-using fan communities here is in aggregation, in tying it all together so that it no longer looks like just one person here and one there, but demonstrates what was the case all along, that those of you who we wrote out were and are there and that we have to take you into account.

It's probably easier for me to admit a history of failure here than it is for some of my friends in the older fandom scene because of my erratic, weird, evolving immune system problems and because of coming to terms with being transsexual. The first has given me 25 years' worth of knowing I don't always think or feel clearly, of needing help, of spending time confused and disoriented, and so on. I seldom have the luxury of sustained conviction in my own inward excellence, so it doesn't come as a big surprise when I find "oh, hey, messed up again, gotta find out how to do it better now". The second...well, it's similar except more so in some ways. Since I'm already engaged in an intense reappraisal of my self-conception and relationship to the world, this is a relatively good time to add a bit more to the pile—it doesn't feel like massively extra work to think about other ways I've been self-blinded.

As I remarked about Elizabeth Bear's personal artistic manifesto, I think she's been accustomed to being one of the least privileged members of her community and to living in the role of outsider speaking not-necessarily-welcome truths to those further in. So am I, to be honest. So are a lot of my friends in fandom, who are stigmatized with real, damaging marks of reduced privilege, and who have in many cases lived the grueling miserable lives of those pushed to the margins. Serious, crippling depression is common in my scene. So's being GLB and out about it, and systemic illness, and a variety of other things that really do make life harder even for us white folks.

But then there's the thing: we remain white. We remain...not always educated in a formal sense. Indeed, for many of my friends, one of their stigmas is being self-educated out of poverty, which gets them branded as uppity and inappropriately ambitious. (A lot of people in the boss classes fear and dislike people who show they can teach themselves important things, because they're harder to control through information monopolization.) We remain, not all of us middle-class or above, but at least capable of learning the skills to function in a basically bourgeois community, and while some of us came up from deep grinding poverty, not many of us except those impaired enough to SSI still live there. (Some do for non-medical reasons, too, but that's the #1 reason for really serious poverty in fandom as I've known it.)

So the encounter with a larger network of networks of fans where these things are much less to be taken as givens really is shocking and eye-opening. It's culture shock, as much as immersing oneself in another country and language. And not all of us rise to the challenge gracefully, to put it mildly. But this is where we find out just what it means to live up to ideals we've always professed.

Date: 2009-06-03 08:49 am (UTC)
nicki: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nicki
(I cannot even tell you how I got here at this point. Somehow through links, anyway)

I wonder if it's sort a problem of some of the more traditional sort of fandom simply having gotten comfortable with the specific group they interact with and how they interact with that group and finding it uncomfortable when they come across a different group interacting in a different way with the same material. I also wonder if there might not be a certain level of insularity as well: "These people are reconizably part of the group I belong to and those other people are weird."


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Ceri B.

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