Apology for Criticism

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Title: Apology for Criticism
Creator: Lucy Gillam
Date(s): November 4, 1999
Medium: online
Topic: fiction writing, fandom
External Links: Apology for Criticism/WebCite
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Apology for Criticism is an essay by Lucy Gillam.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.

This essay discusses feedback, why fans create fanfic , whether fanfic offered publicly are open for criticism, the different reasons fans offer their creations to others, BNFs, the currency of fanfic , acceptance into a community, why isn't criticism isn't afforded the same status as a fanfic as the fanfic itself, the then-new visibility of fanfic on the internet, and the creation of Fanfiction Critics Association.

For additional context, see Timeline of Concrit & Feedback Meta.


The essay, The Subtext Anxiety is one response.


About a week ago, on little more than a lark, I threw up a page starting something called the Fanfiction Critics Association. I'd mentioned the then-fictional organization in my mock autobiography here at the Symposium as a joke, but then started thinking that it wasn't such a bad idea. As you may have guessed, I enjoy critical inquiry into fanfic (well, duh), and identifying other like-minded individuals is often difficult. A fair amount of net fandom (I can't speak for non-net fandom, not being involved in it) is deeply hostile towards critical inquiry, especially (I hate to say it) the fandom where I spend the most time (The Sentinel). When I posted the FCA page, it was with the intention of giving people interested in and supportive of critical inquiry a way to identify themselves, with perhaps the vague hope that we might start some conversations somewhere down the line. I really hadn't thought much further than people, as a friend put it, "putting the graphics on their pages and looking cool."
Now, I am many things, but naive is not one of them. I knew that the idea of the FCA would not be universally applauded, and I waited for the negative reaction. Thus far, I have received only one e-mail objecting to the possibility of an FCA discussion list that would publicly discuss publicly posted fanfic (in fairness, this person told me "several people" had contacted her with concerns). The bone of contention would seem to be this sentence in the FCA "charter": "Any piece of writing published in a public venue, such as a web page, archive, fanzine, or public mailing list, is subject to public examination and response."
The root of the dilemma, it seems to me, lies in two questions: why do we write fanfic, and why do we publish fanfic?
The initial answers I get to that question are usually "because I wanted to share," or "because I thought others might be interested/get pleasure from it."... And here, I think, is where the critical split occurs.
Which brings me to the second reason people post fanfic: to belong to a community.

Fandom at large is probably different, but 'net fandom is often dominated by fanfic writers. There are exceptions, of course (Babylon 5 comes to mind, although that probably has a lot to do with the very, well, present 'net presence of the show's creator). With some shows, fandom communities and fanfic communities are nearly interchangeable.

And within fanfic communities, writers are definitely the "in" crowd. This is not particularly surprising: without fanfic writers, fanfic communities could not exist. However, in many of these communities, the writer is privileged to such a degree that the needs of the reader are pretty much always considered secondary. I've been on lists where the threat of a writer ceasing to write (or post) fic has held such power that non writers (or even other writers) are constrained from even disagreeing with said writer in a non fic related discussion.
Of course, one possible response is that the critic is writing about the works of others, which makes her work inherently different and thus subject to different rules. While I understand the argument (not to say agree with), I would find it particularly unfair coming from writers of fanfiction. We all assume in writing and publishing fanfiction that it is ethically acceptable to write about the creations of others, with or without their permission. Yet, again, criticism (which, unlike fanfiction, falls under the legally acceptable use of another's work) is not afforded the same assumption.

Which is why I'm not sure compromise between the two views of criticism is possible, much as I would like there to be. As a community, fandom rejects the notion that we must not angage in the activity (writing and sharing fanfiction) we love so much because others do not like it, or even find it objectionable. We may not ask for their approval, but we do ask to be left alone to carve out our own space, and engage in our activities with like-minded fellows.

Should the FCA develop beyond a statement into some sort of community, I know that there will be those in fandom who will not like it, and who will find its presence threatening. To them, I can only offer this Apology, and hope for peaceful coexistance. This is why I do what I do. I hope it helps.