Wednesday, July 5, 2017

FANDOM: The Ownership of Anger

Fandom as a construct and I have not been seeing eye-to-eye lately. We've been together for half my life and that's a big deal, but it's just not going well. I still love working cons, I still love doing interviews, I still love my writing work, and I still love partaking of my favorite things. Those are all things that'll never change -- if anything, God help me, they'll ramp up.

And I still love fellow fans. I love meeting with them, talking to them about shared interests, potentially introducing new ones. And I love what those fans can do with their time, energy, and creativity when they put their minds to it: charity works, events, support groups, making changes in their community. All amazing things.

But to me, fandom is a bit like the Little Girl with the Curl from the old poem. When it's good, it's very very good; but when it's bad, it makes twelve-year-olds cry and systematically drives artists to suicide.

The decision to not partake in fandom -- to be a fan, but to get out of the trenches -- has been a weird line to draw. Others encouraged it, saying that being a professional in this field is easier if you split off from the fandom. I couldn't understand that. I wanted to maintain an understanding of the people. I wanted to support them. And I didn't want to stop being a fan.

The realization hit me in a matter of minutes yesterday morning as I read my social media: you can be a fan, understand fans, and work in a fan industry and love what you do... and not be In The Fandom. And to preserve my sanity, that's the judgment call I made.

I worried a bit that people would think I was quitting (Re)Gen, dropping my news writing and blogging and fiction writing -- couldn't be further from the truth. I'm delving deeper into all that, celebrating my love of these genres by creating and adding to them. And I'll always fight for the rights of fans... but I can't do it in the trenches.

My original topic for the day had been the concept of fan "ownership" of their favored IPs via anger... and I don't think that's changing. Because what wrings me out most about fandom, and what finally made me just slap "Leave" on a dozen Facebook groups and become more work-centric, is the anger.

I've written before about "hater culture," about the fact that liking and disliking what you like and dislike is fine. And the fact that it's often the venue or the company that makes a statement unwelcome, not the comment. But there's an irritating tendency in modern-day expression (not just online) that also comes to light.

Compare the two sentences:

"I don't like this character very much."

"This character is like polio -- you think she's disappeared forever but she just keeps coming back."

Both express the same thing. But one is a statement I nod and shrug off regardless of my feelings on said character, or perhaps even stop and ponder to think why they might not appeal to someone. And the other is... what even is that?

It's Wit is what it is. It's edge. It's cut. You see it in social and political arguments a lot now online. Saying something meaningful, even communicating like a human being, has become secondary to scoring Best Mic Drop. Content no longer matters -- it doesn't matter where you cut as long as your blade is sharp enough.

But even so, why?

When we like something, it's a natural human drive to want to be connected to it. It's why we're driven to hug cute things (or rage quietly at adorable things too far away to hug). It's why fans of people want so much to be noticed by those people, even for a moment. And with fan works, that drive is exceptionally strong.

This is why you see fans do fic, art, cosplay, and other transformative works -- they love the thing they're a fan of so much, they crave a tie to it.  And things like that can impact the fandom positively in a lot of ways... from bringing more content during dry periods to training up the next generation of creators. And the risks taken in those transformative works, while potentially considered too risky at the time, might be able to come into play canonically later.

The problem comes when these fans start believing a transfer of ownership is due.

The late days of Homestuck -- an ever more ambitious experiment by anyone's reckoning -- saw this come heavily into play. While many fans were happy to partake and create fan works (and respected creator Andrew Hussie's request not to sell those fan works), others were not so pleased. Delays in updates or dissatisfaction with the course the story took led to many fans demanding that Hussie turn over ownership of his characters to the fan base, as he was no longer able to write the characters properly.

I may not be into Hamsteak but I know some BS when I see it.

The concept of "death of the author" is a popular one, and one with merit from an analytical standpoint (as I talked about in my Passengers write-up earlier this week). There is a truth to the fact that, when a work leaves a creator's hands, it is pretty well open to interpretation.

What is not true is that it becomes public property creatively once it leaves their hands.

In my earlier piece on hater culture, I mentioned too that critique is good and helps art grow. But there's a difference between critique and passing off preference as fact. I run karaoke at an anime con, where I limit the songs to music found in anime, tokusatsu, games, J-drama, and the like. An angry attendee wrote to me saying it was unfair that I wouldn't allow K-pop or C-pop, and demanded that I change my standards.

The thing was, though, he was not coming to open karaoke demanding I be open as advertised. He was coming to Japanese culture con karaoke demanding I run a different event. Which is what I told him. Quite kindly. I never heard back.

The anger people put forward at things not going their way is -- unless we're talking about a truly damaging depiction of someone -- a waste of breath. There's a big difference between "this character is straight-up racist" and "I hate them and therefore they shouldn't be on the show."

But that anger is another level of ownership. It's protection. It's defensiveness. It's the way you'd get if your car is dented or your sibling is attacked. That's what's going on when a fan gets mad for a show going "the wrong way" (again, based on personal preference and not a wider worldview). Or why they get irritated when fans don't know "enough" to prove they've been on board for a while. Or what have you.

It's the desire to participate morphing into possessiveness. A desire to protect and own. Even at the expense of respect for and the well being of fellow fans -- and creators.

And that's why I'm exhausted. That's why I'll continue to fight for fandom to be a better place -- from the fringes. It's why I'll still engage in and love the things I love, but I may only wear my geeky shirts to my friends' houses or when I'm working out. Because fans are lovely, but fandom needs work. It needs less anger, more love. Less greed, more community.

What's funny is that likely no one will notice any change in my lifestyle except me. Except, I don't know, maybe I'll be overall happier. And more productive. Because I still love the shows and books and creations I love. And I'm fortunate enough to have some actual stake in them. And I want to make sure I practice what I preach... and that what I put into them is at least as valuable and worthy as what I get out.

I hope you'll all do what you can, too.