Thursday, 24 November 2016

Five (In)Famous Fandom Flaps

Five (in)Famous Fandom Flaps - Scandals which shook the Fannish World

These days my online identity is 'blogger' foremost and 'comper' second. But, pretty much from the moment we got our first dial up modem to not so long ago, my online identity was very definitely 'fangirl'. I have to admit I kind of miss it! Because, don't get me wrong, parenting / lifestyle blogging has a lovely online community, but fandom is just something else entirely. It's all encompassing;  a proper subculture, with its own etiquette, lingo, social norms and, as a collective, it never ever forgets anything.

Fandom has been around for as long as people have been fans of things. It really began to come into its own in the 20th century, when sci-fi fans exchanged fanzines, attended fan conventions, and generally did their best to outfan everyone by creating intricate worlds within worlds in homage to their favourite creations and creators. When the internet came along, fandom made the natural progression, and today creators often court fandom actively, recognising that an endless stream of fanart, fanfiction, fan meta (essays), etc, serve as free and enthusiastic advertising. But, it wasn't always that way...



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BNF - Big Name Fandom

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#5. Cassandra Claire and the Plagiarism Debacle

Today, Cassandra Clare is known as the best selling author of The Mortal Instruments series. Back in 2001, Cassandra Claire was known as a BNF in the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter fandoms, and writer of the incredibly popular fanfiction series, 'The Draco Trilogy'. Claire was upfront about how she crafted the Trilogy - it was something along the lines of buying a bunch of different jigsaw puzzles, tipping all the pieces into a big pile, and using them to create a brand new picture.

Or, you know, she would use quotes and ideas from all kinds of sources, weaving them together to form a new story. A big part of the reader experience was to try and work out where each piece had originated from. At least, that was the way she and her inner circle saw it. Others, reading The Draco Trilogy on the still new and rapidly expanding Fanfiction.net, figured she was just a genius for thinking up all those concepts and witticisms for herself. Then there were those who recognised her sources and took exception to her lack of attribution.

The Immortal Instruments

In June 2001 Claire was banned from FFN for plagiarising a section of a novel by Pamela Dean, an author sufficiently obscure never to have been encountered by the vast majority of Claire's fans. And they were furious. Some pulled all their own fics from FFN, some settled for flaming (trolling) the FFN mods. Panic swept through the greener sections of fandom, fearing that FFN was about to ban them too for using quotes and references, attributed and disclaimer-ed, or not. The wounds were only torn open again in 2006, when Avacado wrote an exposé on how she blew the whistle.

Perhaps the most frightening part of the whole debacle, at least in light of some of the other scandals on our list, was when one of the FFN mods involved in the banning, after a personal spat with Claire and her fandom BFF, Heidi8, contacted the law firm where Heidi worked in an attempt to get her fired. The problem was that the whole concept of fanfiction was legally and morally dubious, regardless of whether or not the canon creator had given their blessing. When it existed only on mailing lists and Geocities pages, it wasn't a huge problem. But as it began to emerge, blinking into the spotlight, fans began to realise that ignorance was no defence - the battle to keep the hobby under the radar had commenced.

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Fandom platform history

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#4. Tentmoot and Stranger Happenings

In a different section of fandom, but at much the same time, Victoria Bitter (Amy Player) aka Mr Frodo (Jordan Wood) aka Thanfiction (Andrew Blake) was getting involved in Lord of the Rings fandom. In 2002 he set up a fansite for Sean Astin / Samwise Gamgee and, after finding a kindred spirit in OrangeBlossom, embarked on a journey that even today continues to outrage, puzzle and, on occasion, downright terrify...

Together, the pair and their friends soon transformed their fansite into a professional looking venture, and by the end of the year had secured Sean Astin's services in promoting Bit of Earth, ostensibly a charity looking to raise money for reading gardens. Astin's involvement gave the movement the legitimacy it needed to organise Tentmoot, promoting it as the greatest LotR fan convention ever. Except it was a disaster story. There was no money, dismal organisation, and cast stars who had flown over from New Zealand were left with no choice but to sleep on the floor of Thanfiction's apartment.

Snapes on an Astral Plane
Thanfiction isn't alone in channeling fictional characters, see Snapewives.

The full story emerged in September 2004 when Turimel (Jeanine Renne), a LotR fan who had been duped into trusting the protagonists and handing over a substantial sum of money, published a paperback exposé: When a Fan Hits the Shit - The Rise and Fall of a Phony Charity. The extent of the deception was staggering and, worse, Renne's work set in motion the uncovering of something much more sinister - a full blown cult environment. OrangeBlossom has written extensively about her experiences and its lasting effects on her blog, Out of Context. To try and explain in a sentence or two is nigh impossible but, basically, it's a tale of psychological control, emotional and sexual abuse, and Thanfiction convincing his followers that he could channel the real spirits of supposedly fictional characters from some kind of astral plane...

After LotR Blake moved to Harry Potter fandom, gaining a new following through his novel length fanfic, Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness, and then onto Supernatural. Although not without leaving another trail of lies, manipulation, skeevy behaviour, and narrowly avoiding becoming the third victim of a home shooting carried out by the ex of one of his new followers. The Thanfiction sagas served as a wake up call to fandom - of course people lie on the internet, but that doesn't mean we should be complacent about it. Some of those lies are dangerous.

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Sockpuppet

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#3. The MsScribe Story

It was June 2006 and the world was eagerly awaiting the July release of the final novel in the original Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The fannish world was all but chomping at the bit for anything Potter related. So when Charlotte Lennox began publishing her exposé of MsScribe - The Ms.Scribe Story: An Unauthorized Fandom Biography - the shockwaves were immediate.

Msscribe had been a Harry Potter BNF back in 2003/04, and the Biography revealed how she had climbed the ranks to get there. Within hours of launching her MsScribe persona in 2002 she created a dedicated fake fan, Clarabella_21, who was soon joined by davies_517, sarahkjames and others. They made her fan websites, pimped out her writing, and generally worshipped the ground she walked on. They also had to defend MsScribe against her detractors, internet trolls and other nasties - perhaps most notably the 'religious nutter' fermatojam who threatened MsScribe and HP BNFs, like Cassandra Claire, for supposedly promoting homosexuality. Fermatojam's 'Big Name Sinners' list solidified friendships between the fandom's big players, now including MsScribe, who gained much sympathy and admiration for how well she dealt with this (fake) persecution and all the other trials and tribulations she documented on her livejournal.

Msscribe Time Travel

Buoyed by her success, MsScribe stepped things up a notch. New sock Pottersginny - supposedly a member of Harry/Ginny fansite Gryffindor Tower - continued fermatojam's homophobic crusade, but threw in slut-shaming and a big helping of racism for good measure. MsScribe stirred the existing antagonism between Gryffindor Tower and the rest of fandom, setting up a parody version, and when GT became suspicious she managed to convince people that Clarabella_21, now a cross between her nanny and carer, had posted as multiple accounts from MsScribe's home computer, so explaining the IP addresses. At this point MsScribe had become a popular BNF and even won a coveted position as a Fiction Alley mod, but the lies just kept coming; MsScribe had been in a near fatal car crash, she switched jobs from backing singer to politico for future Vice President Biden, earned herself a promotion, and then lost her job after being outed as a fanfic writer to her local newspaper by - so it was implied - a bitter member of Gryffindor Tower.

After Gryffindor Tower imploded in an unrelated act of idiocy, MsScribe was quick to work the situation to her own advantage. All the proof (IP addresses, timestamps, etc) about her socking activities appeared to have gone with it, and she set out to futher discredit the former mods just in case it hadn't. Except, getting into the inner circle meant she was increasingly dragged into arguments and fandom 'wanks' that weren't of her own making - and didn't come out of smelling of roses. (E.g. 2005's 'charitywank' about how a fundraiser to replace Cassandra Claire's stolen laptop received way more support from fandom than one for a less well known fan's cancer treatment.) By the time the exposé was published, MsScribe had largely moved on from fandom, but the scope of her deception shocked her former friends, associates, aquaintances and onlookers alike. Sometimes, on the internet, nothing is what it seems.

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Social Justice Warrior

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#2. RaceFail and the Rise of the SJW

Back in 2009 the long simmering issue of race and fandom boiled over into a spectacular fannish meltdown. The spark that ignited RaceFail is generally believed to be Elizabeth Bear's meta essay about writing the other, something which encouraged people on all sides of the issue to post their own views about it. The debates forced fan authors, many for the first time, to really consider issues like cultural appropriation, and whether or not it was ethical for them to write about cultures and situations outside of their experience, along with the wider issue of the representation of non-white characters in official canon.

I won't go into the ins and outs of who said what - Fanlore and the Fan History Wiki have already done that - but suffice to say the debate quickly diversified to include other issues within the fannish community, ranging from misogyny in slash fandom to queer erasure. This had pros and cons; the former was more awareness and genuine attemps to improve things, the latter was the hammering of the nail into the coffin of LiveJournal fandom. Journals were flocked (i.e. made friends only), fanworks were deleted, and fans left in droves to seek out alternative platforms to avoid or even further engage with the arguments. Dreamwidth, a code fork of Livejournal committed to inclusivity, went into open beta in 2009, as did Archive of Our Own, a non-profit fanfiction archive with a focus on enabling fans to avoid 'triggering' material without outright banning content.

SJW Meme
Anti-SJW meme.

Some fans left namespace to interact anonymously in communities like FFA (fail_fandomanon), while many more decamped to the then up and coming platform Tumblr. It quickly became associated in fandom circles with SJWs and 'whiteknighting' - basically speaking for someone or a group, rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. In my experience the main problem with the Tumblr 'SJW' scene is its intense focus on US cultural norms; there is a reluctance to accept that language usage differs from place to place, for instance, or that the power relationship which is deemed to be a requisite for '-ist' behaviour can be dependent on circumstances. There are plenty of wonderful people pushing for social justice, of course, but it's inevitably the extreme parts of the movement which gets most of the attention and creates the fannish drama.

Right now fandom is smack bang in the middle of ongoing 'purity wank', with an increasingly vocal section of fandom wanting Archive of Our Own, as the go-to fanfiction archive, to start censoring 'problematic' stories. These range from depictions of domestic violence to period typical '-ist' behaviour to age difference relationships, the principle reasoning being that the onus shouldn't be on the user to read summaries, tags and warnings to avoid content they find upsetting or offensive, but on the archive to prevent such content being available. This was exactly the sort of thing Msscribe's fake trolls wanted back in 2003 and were laughed out of town for. The more things change, eh?

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Real Person Fiction

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#1. Larry Stylinson - Maybe, Definitely, Probably

Larry Stylinson is a smush name - i.e. a portmanteau for a ship (romantic pairing), a concept popularised by the rise of sites like Tumblr whose search engines can't handle the traditional x/y pairing format - for Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles of boyband One Direction. In the early days of 1D the boys played up their bromance for the fans, giving interviews about how they were each other's first crush, being 'touchy-feely', and generally providing fuel for the thousands upon thousands of Larry fics over on Wattpad.

But then things began to get awkward. A whole generation of fandom had passed since the Cassandra Claire debacle had made fans determined to fly under the radar; the modern fan was a different beast, and telling TPTB (the powers that be - the celebs, the writers, the actors, etc) about fanworks based on them and their creations was becoming the new norm, for all that older fans still cringed and shied away from it. Back in 2003 when tinhatters believed LotR stars Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan were dating the celebs were aware of it, but in those days avoidance was easier. By the 2010s social media, google, etc, meant that Larry believers could harrass anybody and everybody involved with 1D and their management in the hope one of them would slip up and confirm their relationship.

Louis Tomlinson tweets about Larry

And no matter what 1D said or did, hardcore fans refused to be shaken in their belief. Girlfriends were just management arranged beards, and even Louis becoming a father did nothing to convince some fans - theories range from the baby being the result of surrogacy to the baby being a doll or simply photoshopped into press photos. (See #babygate.) Within 1D fandom the battle between Larries and antis (non-believers) has also been extreme, with trolling, bullying, and general nastiness on both sides.

The thing about Larry is that it made fandom more mainstream than ever before; news outlets and entertainment media alike have reported on the phenomenon, and though people boggle at the utter ludicrousness of it all, they still go googling for more info afterwards. Increasing numbers of high profile authors are admitting to their humble fandom beginnings, and fanfic with the serial numbers filed off - e.g. 50 Shades of Grey was originally Twilight fanfic before the name changes - is now big business. Even while serving as a cautionary tale Larry shows creators the kind of fannish passion and devotion that is out there for the taking, and encourages them to attempt to channel it wisely, even if they don't always succeed with that...

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