"Crossing the Line: 'Netfans' and 'Printfans'"

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Title: "Crossing the Line: 'Netfans' and 'Printfans'"
Creator: wishes to remain anonymous, quoted with permission
Date(s): February 1998
Medium: online
Topic: print zines, fan communication, fandom, netfic
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In 1998, one of the continuing themes was the perceived divide between "Netfans" and "Print" fans. Several fans led a panel called "Crossing the Line'" at Escapade 1998, a discussion that looked at some of the issues that divided the two groups.

"Crossing the Line: 'Netfans' and 'Printfans'" is a post by a fan in February 1998 on Virgule-L made in response to this convention panel.

The poster is quoted anonymously here on Fanlore with permission.

The Post

[This post is]...a speculative musing over the nature of fandom in both its net and print (or in-person) incarnations.

I was [at] a panel at Escapade called "Crossing the Line," which was conceived of as an explanation to net fans of how to find print resources, and to print fans of how to find net resources. It turned into much more than that, however, at least for me, and I've been thinking about it for days since.

As I began to explain how to make connections to the print world, mundane details like the importance of SASEs, etc., the murmur began to rise of "but why should fans pay for zines when they can get stories free off the net?" Now, that's a fair question, but I wasn't very successful at answering it until Rachael Sabotini, who is fluent in both net and print fandom, explained something to me in words of few syllables.

Net fandom, she said, is about the stories. It's about the stories as *product*. That's what fans want. If they can get product free, why should they go to more effort and incur costs to get it?

I stared at her for a moment. Then I said, "May I have a totally gut-level and uncensored reaction to that? "*Eeeuuuw*."

And suddenly I understood why there was resistance to my explanations of how to establish contact, and suddenly I began thinking about fannish activity and fannish community and fannish 'products,' not quite in a new way, but from a perspective I hadn't seen before. And as part of that, I am going to try to drop the term "print fandom," which I think over-emphasizes the importance of zines, of physical products, and replace it with "in-person fandom." That isn't perfect either -- lots of the kind of thing I'm about to discuss goes on by mail and email, not face-to-face -- but it's better.

For me, the point, the heart of fandom is discussion, conversation, and analysis. And I'm not the only person to think this. I remember Barbara T remarking in passing in a slash apa, as something we all knew, "Yes, fans analyze because we're fans. Or are we fans because we analyze?" The heart of a convention like Escapade is not the dealers' room, important as it may be, and frantic though the feeding frenzy at its opening may become; it is the panel discussions.

The heart of fandom -- that is, of what *I love* about fandom -- is discussion and analysis. And not just of shows and characters, which analysis is often done through the mechanism and metaphor of stories as well as through explicit discussion, but of fandom itself. Panels on the history of slash are perennially popular. The wave theory, which is both a proposed history of slash's development and a theory of current slash genres, continues to excite discussion four years after Lezlie originally proposed it. The advent of the net has spurred intense discussion of what makes a fan a fan, and how fans relate to one another and to fandom as an idea.

It's very difficult, perhaps impossible, to do this kind of meta-analysis through stories alone. Some has been done in parodies in the print/in-person world: things like Leslie Fish's K/S story "The End of the Hurt/Comfort Syndrome" (that was its subtitle; I can't remember its title and I've lost my copy and would love another if anyone has one) and Lois Welling and Susan K.'s outline of "How to Write Slash--A Desk Reference for the Millions." I can't think of any net stories that I would categorize as doing this kind of thing, though. (Which doesn't mean they don't exist, of course; it means I haven't heard of them.) And if net fans are indeed concerned with stories just as product, then they aren't interested in joining analytical discussions, in brainstorming with others, in both *doing* and *reflecting on* fandom.

Which is why they would resent being asked to pay for stories, when they can get stories free. Staring at Rachel Sabotini, feeling that gut-level reaction, I realized that I think of zines, of stories, almost as the froth and spume thrown up by fannish activity. Fiction is one of the vehicles of discussion and analysis, but it's a means to an end, not entirely the end in itself. Which does *not* mean that I don't enjoy stories as stories, okay? But I've said for years that I think of fanfic as a conversation among fans, in which one writer says something and others respond, and agree, and disagree, and explore the implications, and collaborate in asking and answering questions. Kat S., on the other hand, a net writer, was startled to hear me talk about responding directly to another writer's work; the idea had never occurred to her. It had never occurred to me that the idea *wouldn't* have occurred to a fan writer!

I realized, in the panel and later, that when I think about sending a SASE for flyers from a zine publisher, or whatever, I'm not thinking in terms of mail-order purchase, but in terms of opening a dialogue with someone else. *That* is something I don't get by hitting somebody's web page to see if anything new has been posted, no matter how much I may like her stories. At a gut level, I don't want to play in fandom with people who treat fandom like a mall bookstore. But if net fans, or some net fans, aren't interested in such collaborative analysis, or if they don't realize that that is so much of what goes on in in-person fandom, then no wonder they are resistant to the idea of buying zines!

On the other hand, that can't be all that's going on, and the generalization that I've been making about net fans can't be entirely accurate, or none of them would ever come to cons. And they are coming; Escapade sees more every year, and I know some are coming to Connexions too, including some whom I'm eager to meet. Much of this kind of discussion and analysis goes on at cons, and no purchase of a zine is required in order to participate, after all.

So I'm proposing a new distinction. Not between "print fans" and "net fans," which is a difficult distinction anyway, since there's the ill-defined group who have been called "print fans with modems" -- like me. After all, I'm sending this out on the net. But between fans who want to analyze and discuss, and to collaborate with other fans in so doing, and fans who don't. And I have strong personal reservations about calling the latter group "fans."

But *are* there people who want only to read the stories, and to point others and get pointed toward good stories, but who don't want to do the kind of analysis that, for me, is the heart of fandom? I don't know. I don't hang out with them, if there are (and probably wouldn't want to, except for the practical purpose of being pointed toward good stories, if I agreed with their taste). Maybe this distinction is meaningless, because the second group doesn't exist. Does anyone else have an idea about this?