Review

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Synonyms: feedback
See also: rec, concrit, Story Bagging
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Contents

Review in fandom has come to have two different usages, depending on the fan community and context.

Often it matches the mainstream meaning of "review," as in movie reviews or book reviews, especially in relation to the source texts, e.g. fan-written episode reviews. Similarly, fans may post opinions and evaluations of fanfic and other fanworks, and call this a "review", especially if it is longer and/or critical, to distinguish it from recs. While not always positive, reviews, like recs, are aimed at other fans rather than the fanwork creators, unlike feedback, which is for the creator.

However, in certain forums and fic archives, such as fanfiction.net, the public comments are called "reviews," though they are intended primarily as feedback for the authors (though not entirely, as such reviews are public, and may help readers select a story, especially since the comment numbers are displayed as a possible indicator of popularity.) In these communities, review has come to mean simply "comment", e.g. in the common plea to "please read & review" (or "R&R" for short).

In the Xenaverse there usually is no distinction between reviews and recs because generally only recommended stories get reviewed and therefore review sites are recommendation sites, like for example Lunacy's Fan Fiction Reviews, BLURB, or Cee's FanFic Reviews.

Controversy

As with concrit, critical reviews of fanworks can be a matter of contention in fandom. Some fans consider the practice discourteous to the fan creators unless permission for it has been clearly granted, while others believe discussion of fanworks to be an important aspect of fannish discourse, and the permission is implicit in posting a work publicly.[1]

Kathryn Andersen has this comment: "There's another thing I need to make clear: there is no such thing as a right not to be reviewed. Not for things which are freely available for the public to read. Remember that thing called "Free Speech"? Speech that has to be vetted isn't free. In other words, as a matter of principle, I will never, ever, ask permission before reviewing something. (My apologies to the majority of you, who already do understand that it's a given that fanfic which is publicly available is publicly reviewable. Unfortunately, this statement is required for that minority who don't.)" [2]

In the 1996 issue of the Black Bean Soup mailing list newsletter where one fan called for a moratorium on identifying authors or publishers when reviewing a zine, unless they had been given express permission. The poster attempted to fold the request into Internet privacy concerns, but the core of the argument centered on the fact that the poster felt that negative reviews were "mean-spirited". By mentioning the author's name and then tying that name to the negative review, the "spirit of fandom" would be tarnished. [3]

Other readers and the editor of the Black Bean Soup disagreed: :"Reviews serve an important function to inform prospective purchasers/readers/viewers about things that they may wish to either experience or avoid. A review is simply the opinion of the reviewer, with which other individuals may or may not agree." [4]

The editor pointed out that not giving credit to the author or the zine publisher could raise other problems: "There is also the opposite position to consider. If one mentions a zine or work of fanfic and does *not* mention the editor/authors, some feel that this is not giving proper credit to the person whose work is being reviewed."

After peeling away the privacy issues, the editor went out to point out that a prohibition of discussing fan fiction and mentioning authors or publishers was both elitist and counter to the spirit of fannish discourse: "Why should a fan who does not have access to cons but *does* have access to the Internet be disallowed from learning about fandom, fanfic or fanzines? And, while I will reiterate that I DO NOT believe anyone has the right to publish anyone's work or home address (without their permission) via Internet (OR via snail mail!), I DO believe that freedom of speech gives anyone the right to mention a person's name in connection with a review - one person's stated opinions on something which has been published. Zine ads are one thing, reviews are another. Sending E-mail is one thing, posting on the Internet is another. For me, the joy of fandom - ESPECIALLY in regard to Starsky & Hutch, which was beloved because of their great friendship - is sharing my love of a show with someone else who loves the show also." [5]

In the end, klangley56 perhaps offers a more pragmatic approach to the question of 'To Review Or Not To Review': "And will some fans be *bad* at writing their reviews or LoCs or story commentary? Sure. The same way that some fan fiction writers are bad at producing fan fiction. That makes it a level playing ground. In an ideal world, both the writers and the reviewers/commenters will learn from their mistakes and get better at what they do. Either way, reviews both positive and negative are here to stay. To do otherwise would be illogical, unfair, and dishonest." [6]

The Anonymous Reviewers

Some reviewers chose, and choose, to review others' fanworks anonymously. Some feel that it frees her or him from the social constraints of having to say positive things about material without merit for fear of the conflict it would create in her or his fannish community. In other words, an anonymous review can be more truthful. Others feel that reviews should be done under the reviewer's accountable identity, that anonymous reviews are irresponsible and can lead to undue harshness.

One reviewer, Tigriffin writes (in the third person) in Datazine: "Tigriffin also believes that reviewers who hide behind pseudonyms to give their nastiness free rein aren't playing fair. So let it be shown on the record that Tigriffin only wishes to remain anonymous so that it can review impartially, and remain unaccused of favoritism to friends or undue harshness to non-friends."

One example of a fan taking offense of a reviewer's anonymity: "[I] take umbrage at the recent 'review' of my zine by you, T'Yenta -- because you did not review my fanzine, you reviewed my editorial. Who are you, T'Yenta? What injustice, real or imaginary, have I committed upon you to make you hate me and that editorial so much? If you honestly disliked Storms, I can appreciate that, as I stated upfront and from the beginning that this zine is not for everyone... It's a whole lot easier to write reviews blasting the editor than it is to stick out your own neck and try. I find it significant that a person who is afraid, for whatever reason, to use her real name should also see fit to bitch rather than build."

There were a handful of anonymous reviewers during the Golden Age of Zines, most of them officially associated with a specific zine. Some examples: H.O. Petard for Implosion, T'Yenta for Universal Translator, and Tigriffin for Datazine. Most zine eds, however, refused to run unsolicited anonymous reviews. The editor of the K/S zine The LOC Connection only allowed anonymous reviews for the first few issues, but eventually changed the policy after subscribers asked that names be attached to reviews.

One controversial review of Interstat, done with the pseud "Kristen Brady," was sent to four zines: Orion, Power of Speech, Datazine, and [[Interstat[]]. Only "Datazine" and Interstat" refused to run it. The piece is called: "Anatomy of a Letterzine" and the reviewer takes a look "at the letterzine know as 'Bennett's Tenets,' also known as 'The Harve Bennett Fan Club Newsletter,' or, as it is more commonly called, Interstat". The reviewer takes the zine to task for two things: one, its "gnashing of teeth, the raking of claws, and the lashing of tongues -- not to mention the backbiting, mudslinging..." and two, the reviewer's belief that it is nothing but a censored rag dedicated toward TPTB. The editors of "Datazine" distanced themselves from this review, stating they had a policy of not printing things by anonymous reviewers. "Interstat's" fans, in turn, wrote many LoCs in support of their letterzine.

Some LiveJournal spaces are dedicated to anonymous reviews of fanworks. The Fic Discussion posts at the Supernatural anon meme (initially part of the main spnpermanon meme, after its demise in dedicated posts at the successor meme) serve as sometimes controversial spaces where fans anonymously review fic and art created for fests and exchanges such as the SPN J2 Big Bang; other fandoms' anon memes may not have dedicated reviewing posts but may feature review threads in their main posts. Two multifandom anonymous fic reviewing comms were inspired by discussion at Fail-Fandomanon: anonficreviews, which had separate posts for various fandoms was active for a few months in 2010, and in November 2011, the LJ community reviewsanon was created for anonymous fic reviews and recs in all fandoms.[7][8][9]

A Zined's Request

From Interphase #4:
The themes in fanzines, whether expressed in words or in images, reflect a lot about the individuals who produce them -- what has been called a 'psychological visibility.' In the main, the active members are amateurs; they make no living by their writing or drawing, and as amateurs, they don't employ the polished techniques or gimmicky that experienced professionals can use to shield or disguise their most private thoughts. As a result, there's an openness and intimacy in fanzine materials that is rare, often beautiful, and terribly vulnerable. It takes a certain courage (and sometimes a certain ignorance) to record and share such highly personal fantasies. So whenever you read a fanzine, know that someone is opening his or her soul to you, in part. Even if you don't care for the content, it is important to try to respect the gesture. That is the policy that I have tried to implement in the reviews I've written, here and elsewhere, and have asked from other reviewers whose comments appear here [in Interphase].

The Purpose of Reviews

At the core of the review controversy is the fact that people see reviews serving differing purposes. For some, a review should be written to help the writer or creator of the works with constructive comments. From a 1979 issue of the Starsky and Hutch letterzine S and H:

"Reviews are at their best when they (a) inform the potential buyer of the general quality and content of the kind of zine, tht is, is it the kind of story that I (the potential buyer) wants to read, and is it written well-enough to be worth my investment of money and reading time?, and (b) a review, should at least of a fanzine, should do its best to be constructively critical, that is, praise the strong points, and as much as possible offer comments and suggestions intended to HELP the writer/artist/poet/editor do better work next time. I've been through this argument before with Trek zines. But many reviewers persist in writing reviews that sound like they're on a personal vendetta against the zine or the writer, or sound like they're a personal friend trying to inflate or cushion the editor's or the writer's ego, or sound like they're trying to force professional-level standards on materials produced by amateurs for their own enjoyment."

For others, zine reviews also serve a more practical purpose: to give potential buyers enough information to make an informed purchasing decision:

"Unlike reading slash stories on the Net, when you read a bad slash zine, or simply one you dislike, you're out a considerable bit of cash, and now have to go to the effort of finding the zine a new home, to recoup some of your losses. It's not as simple as pressing a delete key. That's why I am honest in my reviews of slash zines. These are marketed stories, that are sold as a product. Granted, the publishers aren't making any money off of these zines. But they are charging the money it costs to publish them, which is often considerable. Most new zines cost around $25 US dollars. When you add on postage, especially to overseas, it really adds up. For that reason, I think zines have every right to be reviewed by their reading audience. I'm not into negative reviews of slash stories on the Net. Why waste energy on something that can easily be deleted and forgotten? But when we're talking rating a product this is bought and sold, it's different." [10]

While these two purposes are not necessarily mutually exclusive, many arguments over the content and tone of reviews fail to acknowledge that a review written for one purpose may not always serve the other. This inability to distinguish between types of reviews can lead to circular and somewhat pointless debates over ethics, community standards, free speech, and roles and responsibilities of readers and writers. Somewhat surprisingly, even when a review is identified as falling into one category, many fans still insist that all reviews should be created with the same purpose in mind. This single purpose position is most often put forward by proponents of the argument that reviews are meant as "constructive feedback for the writer." Proponents of the "my review is meant for the reader" are more likely to acknowledge that their types of reviews may not be helpful for the writer. In fact, they do understand that this type of reviews may be off-putting and discouraging.

"When I was writing reviews for Marty S.'s "Psst...Wanna Buy a Fanzine", there were two cardinal rules: 1) You must be truthful and 2) You must entertain. It was the second part that was the hard one. These reviews were aimed at the zine consumer, not the zine author or publisher or artist, and focused on things that most people on this list don't want to talk about, like "did I get my money's worth?" We had to clever and witty, often at the expense of someone else. We tried to be fair, but often the pursuit of 'entertainment' lead to statements that would be considered 'flame-worthy' today. But always, they were clever and they gave the consumer usable information.
I don't believe that a review oriented to the consumer will give the author the type of feedback they want, and reviews that focus on giving the author feedback are often worded such that a consumer can't tell if the zine is any good or not. (If a woman has given birth to a truly ugly child, how can you go up to her and say 'my god, that is one butt-ugly baby.'? That is often the equivalent of what the good reviewer must do.) It is often a no-win situation that takes the courage of your convictions, and a willingness to put your opinions on the line. It is not an easy task."[11]
In 1996, in an effort to bridge the gap between the single purpose and the multi-purpose factions, Morgan Dawn and Megan Kent role played the debate in front of a live fan audience at Virgule convention:
"Morgan Dawn, in a very deft bit of acting, took on the role of "Stacie", a fan who works really hard on her writing, thinks it's pretty good, and doesn't want to hear from you if you disagree. (She did a VERY good job.)

"Points that came up were, yes, she has the right to ask people (as friends in fandom) not to criticize her story to her face, or in her hearing. But everyone has the right to say whatever they want. She has no right or ability to control other fans. This didn't seem to reassure Stacie.

"We also made the distinction between criticism for a result (in the editing process, to improve the story, or as a review, to educate readers) vs. the criticism-for-entertainment that seems to be a part of fannish culture.

We emphasized the non-negative definition of "criticize": to analyze and judge as a critic (one who writes judgments of books...) In other words, saying, "I really loved it" is criticism, too.

"[And last we explained that] Criticism and editing are skills that one develops, like writing. Not everyone is good at maintaining perspective, looking for the best in a story, or even expressing what's wrong when they find it..."[12]

In the end, until the fannish community comes to terms with the fact that reviews are not part of an singular conversation with a single goal in mind, the debate and discussion and review of reviews is not likely to end soon.

Review Zines

It was common practice to include a few reviews or letters of comment at the back of many fanzines. Sometimes the reviews would be for zines from entirely different fandoms than those appearing in the zine. Letterzines or APAs would also contain reviews (see Jundland Wastes and Southern Enclave).

Fanzines that focused primarily on fanzine reviews:

Review mailing lists & websites

Review Communities

Sample Reviews

This is still a draft section.

Public Consumption Reviews

  1. Insert early Star Trek review from Mahko Root 2 (1970s)
  2. insert Sandy and rache's 1995 review of a Pros zine
  3. Need one more post 2000 zine review (if cannot locate, try using these

Semi-Private Reviews - different tone? More candid? Impact that blogging has on turning 'public consumption' reviews into more personal musings. Do they still serve the same purpose or are they different?

References

  1. "All of these conversations can be important parts of the fannish discourse." synecdochic in "Cult of nice" vs. "cult of mean", round 2847, fight, posted 23 July 2008 (Accessed 22 February 2009)
  2. "I know the use of "Free Speech" as a rallying call has a tendency to be abused in these days, but the ability to raise an objective, critical voice is one of the cornerstones of a free society. I'm not trying to play my "Free Speech" card in order to peddle pornography or to say abusive and vile things. I am here trying to hold up an honest mirror to the state of fan fiction as I see it. And some people will say, "Aw, it's only fanfic, what does it matter?" It matters because honesty matters. I will not be bullied into lying, I will not be censored, I will not be dictated to by those who demand that I change the way I do this. I'm stubborn that way. The more they rant and get on their high horse, the more stubborn I will be. Constructive, polite suggestions will always be listened to, however. So long as you don't ask me to be dishonest. 8-)" Kat Space/reference link, posted perhaps in the late 1990s, accessed June 6, 2013.
  3. Letter to the editor, Black Bean Soup, Volume 2, Issue #39, Part 1, dated 27 October 1996 (1995).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Editorial column, Black Bean Soup, Volume 2, Issue #39, Part 1, dated 27 October 1996 (1995).
  6. comment in kyuuketsukirui's livejournal, Wank, wank, wank + question for those who read my reviews, dated July 20, 2008; accessed Feb 8, 2011; reference link.
  7. first post at anonficreviews 15 July 2010. (Accessed 15 Dec 2011)
  8. Anonymous reviews thread at Fail-Fandomanon, 17 Nov 2011. (Accessed 15 Dec 2011)
  9. reviewsanon comm announcement thread at Fail-Fandomanon, 18 Nov 2011. (Accessed 15 Dec 2011)
  10. Raonaid's Thoughts On Zines.
  11. Rache posting to the Virgule-L mailing list in "Confessions of A Zine Reviewer," dated Feb 1997, quoted with permission.
  12. Megan Kent's Virgule con report posted to the Virgule-L [[mailing list] on Oct 16, 1996, quoted with permission.
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