not your typical annihilatrix (furiosity) wrote,
not your typical annihilatrix

fell down when I was blind

FTR: I'm not linking to anything, because I didn't write this in response to any particular post or seven. I've been reading stuff off the metafandom tag in sporadic bouts, and it's been sort of percolating in my brain in the meantime. If you're curious about where it all got started, go directly to unfunnybusiness. This post is more about fandom "rules of engagement" than it is about warnings.

I'm kind of at a weird place in this whole warnings wankstorm. I really prefer it if rape, dub-con, chan, and graphic violence are warned for as a matter of course. I see no merit in the few explicitly anti-warning arguments that I've seen, because we're talking about fan fiction here. No one's going to lose out tremendously if they're not as surprised by your surprise noncon as you wanted them to be -- no one, that is, except your writer's ego. Which isn't something I've ever held in high regard, so from where I sit, it's no great loss. And if your fragile little sense of self really does hinge on whether or not random strangers are appropriately awed by your oh-so-shocking fanfic plot twist, then you can just say upfront that you don't warn for anything. It's not hard. I have loads more sympathy for readers who prefer to be surprised, but not so much that I think their personal preferences ought to supersede the real risk of other readers getting triggered. But that's how I see it; I don't see a point in trying to impose my views on any other individual or, Kinney forbid, fandom as a whole.

From where I sit, generally speaking, warnings are a convention in fan-produced works -- go to any archive or any fic community on LJ and you'll see more fics with warnings than without. A lot of community maintainers' rules specify that warnings are necessary. However, it's also true that the Internet is not by nature a safe space, and there is a degree of trigger risk no matter where you go. Wishing it weren't so won't change anything. If someone doesn't warn in a fandom context, however, it is a matter of going against convention; trying to pretend the convention isn't there -- or saying it shouldn't exist -- won't change anything, either. No, commercially published books don't come with warnings, but fanfic is not commercially published; you don't pay for it and you don't get to return an unpalatable fanfic to the bookshop, get your money back, and write an angry e-mail to the publishing house. The "classic literature" argument just makes me laugh because, uh, fan fiction is not classic literature (surprise!).

Very few people are making full-on blanket anti-warning arguments, though. What I'm observing more of is that any strong objection, on whatever grounds, to "warnings are a must" gets interpreted as "warnings are unnecessary and you're just too sensitive for online fandom". I don't think there are a lot of people who are actually arguing that with respect to warnings, specifically. What I have seen people say is that while it's fine to talk about warnings and specify your own boundaries, some are turning it into an absolute expectation necessary for fandom participation and, by extension, a witch hunt. They can't get behind that, and neither can I.

I've drawn away from HP fandom over the past couple of years largely because since about the end of 2006 or so, I have felt increasing pressure to conform to a "community standard". Fandom is a community, I am told, and a supportive environment for bright-eyed writers. And, um, well, how do I put this nicely? Aw, fuck that noise: Bullshit. If I want a supportive environment for my writing, I'll join a fucking writing support site.

Fandom is not a support network or even a unified community. There is definitely an aspect of community, and there always has been, but that initially comes from sharing squee about a favourite thing; that's really the only thing that unites a fandom. If I see a "My Other Car is a Ford Anglia" bumper sticker, or a person in a Gotei 13 T-shirt, or a baby blanket decorated with the Vongola crest, it gives me a little thrill and a "one of us! one of us! :DD" sort of feeling. But unless this happens at a con (i.e. a place you go to meet other fen, among other things), I'm not going to try to engage that person in conversation just because we happen to have a shared interest -- it's enough to have my little :DD moment and be on my way. Online fandom is obviously more involved than such encounters, but at the core of fannish camaraderie is simply avid interest in the same thing. That doesn't mean we all need to become best buddies who agree on every issue. Nobody would expect a bunch of dried-autumn-leaf collectors to share the same views, so why would we expect it of a bunch of fictional-world enthusiasts?

I keep hearing about human relationships and communities and forging friendships, but those have nothing to do with fandom -- they're just a natural outcome of fandom participants belonging to a gregarious species. In such approaches, fandom is a means to forging relationships and not any sort of end. And to me, fandom is an end in itself, so I feel out of place in a community where fandom is a means. I'm in fandom because I am a fan of the source material -- I love squeeing with others, but that doesn't mean I want to become their best friend based on just our shared squee. And there is nothing wrong with that. I don't want any part of the fanfic love-in -- that's not why I'm here, and nobody said you have to be a ~community participant~ in order to be in fandom. Hell, you can be a lurker who's never said a word to anyone and still be in fandom. Belonging to a fandom is a decision made by the individual, not by other fandom participants. When I say "OMG YOU TWIT GTFO MY FANDOM" in response to someone doing something I disagree with fannishly, I'm just venting, not actually expecting or even wanting my target to pack up and leave -- and I generally tend to assume that that's the case for everyone else who says similar things.

I did meet some of my dearest friends as a result of fandom participation, but while I'll always be grateful to online fandom for bringing these people into my life, they are not my friends because we share a fandom. They're my friends because they are great people -- fandom was a means to meeting them, but my friendships with them won't end if I leave a fandom, and I won't leave a fandom I still enjoy just because they stop enjoying it and beat feet. Clinging to this ~fandom is a community~ ideal just because fannish involvement brings people together strikes me as actually damaging to fandom as a whole. There's a difference between saying "if it weren't for fandom, I'd never have met you, Awesome Person; thank goodness for fandom" and saying "fandom is nothing but a way to connect with people, so let's forget why we came". I don't buy into the whole "come for the squee, stay for the people" thing -- I'm not in fandom for other people. I'm here for the source material, the shared squee, the fannish creative output. In short, I'm here because of my interests and it's all about my enjoyment. The friends I meet are a hugely welcome bonus, but they don't define or control my fandom participation.

Ages ago I was talking to someone who said they wouldn't attend a HP con because of all the weird people dressed up in costumes. This was someone who wrote about Harry and Draco having creamy buttsex, so yeah, I was like dude, IDEK o.O;; Cosplay is just as fannish as fanfic -- yeah, it can get creeptastic when, for example, dedicated cosplayers start to believe they're actually the characters they're cosplaying, but fanficcers with delusions of writerly grandeur are no less weird and creepy, if you ask me. I have a pretty much viscerally negative reaction to ficcers acting like they're Serious Writers and their fanfic is Serious Business. It's not that a fan fiction writer can't be serious about writing; I'm definitely a ficcer who's serious about writing, but my writerly aspirations have nothing to do with fandom -- fandom is just a niche in which I write some of my stories because the source material inspires me. No one engages with fandom in exactly the same way, but while the modes of engagement are different, there's no actual hierarchy involved -- for every ficcer who thinks fanfic is the "best" way to engage with fandom (because it's her way, acourse), there is a person who thinks fanfic is a pointless waste of time, not to mention unhealthily obsessive. Because fandom is so widespread, you can go years without knowing anything about some aspects of it. That doesn't mean those aspects are unimportant or negligible, though.

I feel far more comfortable in Bleach and Reborn right now, because overall the main focus there is on the source material, not on the fannish byproducts -- and these fandoms aren't brand-new like Merlin or ST:Reboot, so I have a measure of confidence that they're not going to morph into the ~playground for aspiring writers~ that LJ-based HP fandom has become. I think this plodding metamorphosis from fandom-as-an-end to fandom-as-means (in more fandoms than just HP, mind you, but HP is the one I'm closest to) is partly to blame for the potentially relationship-damaging arguments on both sides of the warnings debate. On one hand, we have the people who want creative freedom above all, and on the other we have the people who want a sense of community above all. And these two things seem mutually exclusive to me, because creative freedom will often benefit an individual at the expense of her community, whereas community-based considerations of what is proper will often stifle an individual's self-expression. The thing is, why is it impossible to meet in the middle? What do we think we're going to get out of posting lengthy harangues on why it's Wrong Not to Warn or why it's Wrong to Warn? Neither is wrong; both can be potentially troublesome. It's disheartening to see people who are normally liberal-minded and articulate be reduced to "my way or the highway"-type reasoning in a debate where academic knowledge can only serve to minimally bolster arguments, not actually resolve anything. The way I see it, this debate is not about an issue inherently solvable by examining empirical evidence, so why try to pretend like it is, whatever your side?

At the core, I agree with people who say it's not their responsibility to cater to everyone who might be negatively affected by something that happens in a fic. But that argument is so incredibly broad and vague that it's difficult not to agree with it if you're the type of person who believes that people are responsible for their own choices and actions. I am that kind of person, but I also can't get behind the vagueness of "I'm not responsible for anything ever because your pain, real or imagined, is your problem, not mine". I think that would require me to assume all non-physical pain is ultimately self-inflicted. I have read cogent arguments for just that, btw; it's not an indefensible position, just not one I agree with at all.

I'll never hesitate to mow down a whiny ficcer who doesn't like me saying negative things about her story and thinks I should GTFO fandom because of it; I will probably always feel that if you put your work out in public, you're saying you're okay with criticism (unless you specifically state otherwise). And I won't take responsibility for hurt feelings as a result of my remarks about a fic, because people who end up hurt by bad reviews do fucking well tacitly accept the possibility of negativity when their headers don't mention they're unwilling to take criticism. If you put your precious brainchild into the public space, especially as highly public -- and unsafe -- as the Internet, it's stupid to expect everyone to adore it. End of story. It's just that flat-out simple for me -- you are free to disagree; after all these years, I still don't give a fuck.

But when it comes to things like warning for triggers, or saying mean things about people (their motives, behaviours, etc), the landscape becomes more of a bog than a pretty flatland for me. I am often cynical and cold; I am impatient with others; it's hard for me to be kind; due to PTSD, I have a limited emotional range -- not quite that of a teaspoon, but close -- sometimes the only way I'm able to safely experience emotions unrelated to grief is by writing and reading about fictional people having them. I don't play well with most others, and there is a wide variety of behaviours that piss me off and make me snarl... which I rarely hesitate to do -- better out than in is my philosophy when it comes to rage. By "normal" societal standards, I'm really quite ugly on the inside, and I've made my peace with that, because I think I have to set my own boundaries and decide what is best for me. Being this way is best for me because it minimises pain beyond what I already live with. And despite all of the above, I'm happy with who I am. Do I wish I were a little bit more patient, a little bit kinder, a little bit more compassionate? Sure, who in my circumstances wouldn't? But I'm not going to hate myself just because I'm neither of those things, and I'm not going to hate myself because I don't make it a priority to be a little bit *more* at all of those things. That would just make me miserable.

In short, I'm not a nice person, and my predominant culture's ideas of what defines a nice person make me gag more often than not, so I don't even want to be a nice person in the first place. But I also don't want to be deliberately callous or mean. If I make a hurtful remark about a person -- even if I don't intend for it to be hurtful -- and the person is actually hurt, it is my responsibility because I don't want to be the type of person who ignores another's pain since it's easy for me to do so (and sometimes it frightens me how easy it is). It's the same way that I think it's my responsibility as a white fan to work my hardest not to marginalise, stereotype, or belittle people of colour, passively or actively, through my writing or otherwise. I feel it's my responsibility because I don't want to be a racist. Not just be thought of as one -- I don't want to be one. And because it's a matter of the kind of person I want to be, of course it's my responsibility not to be racist, just like it's my responsibility not to be ableist or misogynistic (yes, Virginia, females can be misogynistic), just like it's my responsibility not to cause people serious harm because I can't be arsed to stick a warning on my fic. It's not about what people think of me, it's about what I think of myself -- I would feel terrible if a reader of one of my stories felt pain as a result of my failure to warn. And I don't like to feel terrible. So logic would dictate that I ought to do my best to avoid doing things that have the potential to make me feel terrible.

To quote Brian fucking Kinney, my responsibility is to myself. If I felt I owed it to some "community standard", I wouldn't be bothered. I abhor the thought of doing something because it's expected of me by some faceless mob. That's why during the recent imbroglios, I've sat on the sidelines struggling with my aversion to political correctness -- I detest that concept, because it expects me to act out of deference to society-imposed ideals, not based on what I think (even if what I think coincides with the societal ideal). Many of the arguments made during Racefail and Warninggate were worded in such cagey, carefully-PC language that I found myself wanting to reject the messages they carried because I couldn't help but doubt their authenticity. I don't believe in being politically correct and using ridiculous nonexistent pronouns -- I believe in approaching human-relationship difficulties from a human (i.e. personal) point of view, and I don't believe in being "neutral", either, because Jesus fucking Christ on a grand piano, since when can deeply personal emotional reactions get discussed impartially? There's no such thing as a fucking impartial point of view when it comes to issues of morality, for crying out loud, because there is no universal standard of morality. No one is impartial. Instead of rejecting those arguments for being too PC, I quietly rewrote them in my own words (so basically, 50% added profanity~). Then I was able to process them. Because outright refusing to hear a valid argument just because it's worded in a squicky way is blitheringly stupid.

But I digress. I've told you why I feel it's my responsibility if my actions cause real pain, inadvertently or not. But that only applies to me; it doesn't extend to anyone else in fandom. If someone is admittedly callous, a confirmed cynic, or misanthrope who doesn't care to adopt another worldview, then yeah, like it or not, it's not their responsibility to own up to the pain they cause, because they don't actually owe it to anyone to care. In fandom, nobody owes anyone anything. You are free to think the aforementioned callous, misanthropic, or cynical people are "bad", but that doesn't mean you're allowed to expect them to change to fit your idea of what is "good" -- in fandom or RL, it doesn't matter. I said above that I think the "fandom is a community" mindset is damaging -- the reason I think so basically boils down to this point: calling fandom a community seems to give some the illusion that, like in a church group or whatever, there is some kind of central set of values that all fandomers are expected to share. That's just not the case -- but the more people post screeds on what they feel is properly moral in a fandom context, the more people who don't share their values will feel marginalised/attacked and be tempted to argue or just plain lash out. It's one thing to say "this is not okay with me, and here is why"; it's quite another thing to say -- or even imply -- "this is not okay with me, and if you've got any worth as a human being, it shouldn't be okay with you either".

I'm not the least bit appalled when people think I'm a bad person for speaking too-directly or saying negative things about others' creative efforts or being caustic in my speech. These behaviours are, after all, socially unacceptable, generally speaking; I just don't give a shit, because for me behaving in this manner has more intrinsic value than trying to be "nice" or fitting into a set of social boundaries. But not being appalled by someone's reaction to me is not the same as agreeing with it, yet in fandom, silence is all too often construed as tacit acknowledgment that one is "wrong", so in order to avoid the assumption that I'll "change my ways", I feel like I have to keep saying that uh, no, I won't. What I'm trying to say is that I don't believe fandom as a group has the right to tell people what sort of individuals they ought to be, but over the past few years it has seemed like judging others in general based on a set of values that aren't (and never will be) shared by the whole community is an increasingly "in" thing to do. I'm not wholly anti-fannish-judgment; I just see a huge difference between judging specific fannish behaviours within a clear set of established criteria (as, for example, with fandom_wank or GAFF or deleterius) and judging individuals' worth based on their behaviour within fandom. In short, the current debacle looks like this to me:

Fandomer A: If you don't warn, you're saying people's pain doesn't matter! You're a douchebag!
Fandomer B: No, you're the douchebag, douchebag! You're trying to make me be like you! You're a conformist douchebag!
Fandomer C: There's nothing wrong with being conformist if it means people won't get hurt! It's in the name of the greater good! You're an antisocial douchebag!
Fandomer D: Yeah, well, I think conformity is the root of all evil, and the greater good is just fancy-talk for mob rule. You're a blinkered douchebag!

The thing is, we're all douchebags, because when it comes to these difficult, emotionally-charged topics, whether or not someone is a douchebag depends on perspective. There are different sets of values at work here, and it's obviously not a simple issue -- if it were, we wouldn't keep coming back to it. Fandom mores are merely a reflection of those belonging to its vocal participants, and if you feel that your values are not being represented, the only thing you can do is speak. There is no universal fandom code of conduct -- even if you engage in behaviours that are generally frowned upon, you will find people who will like you and be your friends because (not in spite) of them, if you want.

The only thing that is remotely reasonable to expect of a fandom participant is that he or she be a fan of the source material... and even that isn't absolute. I've met people in several fandoms who consume fannish products like fic and art but hate the canon. It's fine for you and me to think they shouldn't be in fandom because of that -- but it's not fine to tell them they don't belong here because of it.

...That's what I think. >.>
Tags: criticism, fandom, meta:fandom, online culture
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