Citizens Against Bad Slash
|Name:||Citizens Against Bad Slash|
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Influenced by the Slashfic Hall of Shame, and "review" sites, Citizens Against Bad Slash (or CABS) was founded by a small group of women to be a "constructive critique" website, under such pseudonyms as Jane Doe, Virginia, and June Cleaver.
A Major Revision
In August 1999, a fan wrote an essay for Fanfic Symposium criticizing some of the site's premise. An undated addendum to this essay reads: "Update: Well, whaddya know! Sometimes feedback really does work. "Jane" and "Virginia" have majorly revised their site, including taking down most of what I was reacting to here. Gotta love the Internet!"
For more, see the essay Shakespeare, Fanfic, and Creativity.
The RPS Debate
They were on both sides of the RPS debates of the time (late '90s, v. early 2000s), with essays like "To All the Other Guys: Stop Fucking with RPS" and "The RPS Debate," and their forum was an important place for the ongoing conversation about RPS at the time. For example, the RareSlash list in 2000 didn't allow any RPS, or any conversation about the fact they didn't allow RPS -- so some of the conversation about that ban happened on the CABS forum.
Why we're anonymous: "One thing people really seem to be reacting to at the site is that Jane and I have chosen to remain anonymous. They assume we do this without reason. I assure you, we are doing it with very good reason. Jane and I are both fairly well-known and outspoken on several mutual and respective fan fiction lists. As reaction to the site has already proven, it appears everyone has a guilty conscious and assumes we are talking about them and their stories. We may be speaking to what we view as the vast majority, but that doesn't include everyone. We have just as much right to remain anonymous as we do to parade our true identities all over the place. We are not "hiding" behind the Jane and Virginia identities. Every opinion expressed by Jane and I are the opinions of our true selves. We have nothing to hide except our real names, for, as we say in the introduction, fear of retribution. You think either Jane or I want people who are pissed off by what we said here at CABS going to our other sites and ripping on us merely for expressing our opinions here? No thanks. If people are going to rip on our other, respective sites and what is written in them, let them do it objectively.
Is this really any different than anyone else on the Internet who chooses to go by a pseudonym?"
Jane's Second Birthday Rant
Read the first birthday rant.
Fuck it. I don't know what to say, but there should be a birthday rant. The site's second anniversary was Sept. 2001. I'm a month late.
For a year now I've had the goodbye page for this site sitting on my hard drive. About 12 times in the last year, or roughly once a month, I've seriously debated putting it up, simply because I'm tired. I'm tired of doing this, tired of getting bitch at, tired of giving a shit, tired of being told that I'm an unqualified adolescent and not being able to properly defend myself without giving away my identity. I'm tired of having another web site to maintain when all I want to do is write about fictional boys having sex. I'm tired of seeing incidents like the Harry Potter thing where it's evident that no one outside of the slash circle understands and the people within the slash circle are always at each other's throats. I'm tired of some of the e-mail I get, tired of HTML code, tired of this hobby. While I have some wonderful people like Nancy Spungeon, Ian McDuff and June Cleaver who are knowledgeable and fun and write great stuff, this site is basically written and maintained by one person. One very tired person.
But I can't bring myself to put it up. It would be like throwing away two years of writing, coding, growing pains, interaction with wonderful people and working on something I believe in. I know this sounds like any minute someone is going to cue the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but who gives a shit? Two years is a long time to do this shit, especially since most bad fic sites last about six months. If you don't like it, you know where the back button is.
The same could be said for the CABS web site as a whole. If you don't like it, you know where the back button is. If you don't, it's up there in the top left hand corner of your browser. Use it and leave me the hell alone.
If I sound bitter, it's because I am, if only just a little. I know when this site started, we were bitches. We had no clue what we were doing or what we were trying to say. I admit that. Most of the material anyone ever had a problem with in the beginning has been removed and replaced with stuff that I truly think is helpful, if only to me. That being said, I hear the same shit over and over. I hear that this site "attacks" people. To be honest, I don't even think these people have read the site beyond the initial page that pissed them off. Show me. Show me where someone is attacked. If you think anything on this site is an attack, then you've never really been attacked by anything.
If I don't like your story, I'll tell you what I didn't like about it. Why is that so fucking hard to deal with? You don't have to listen to me. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. You could shrug me off and go about your merry way. I've received a lot of constructive criticism about my fic this year, some of which stung, but I'm glad I got it. It didn't end my life. It didn't ruin me. With the amount of slash out there, I'm still amazed that someone is reading what I write.The last couple of months, I've been in a new position of more and more people finding out who I am. I can count on one hand the number of people I've told, and I know who the loose lips are, and lethargy is the only thing stopping me from hunting you down like the snivelling dogs you are. It's given me a lesson in who I can trust and who I can't, and I won't forget it. If it becomes common knowledge, I'll just close up shop. The entire purpose of this site is to be able to write about your opinion of what's going on in your fandom without fear of retribution, and I've already had actual friends e-mail me about things that have appeared on the site, presumably to make me feel guilty or to sway what was said. Fuck that. I've worked too hard at this to start bowing to people. These are my opinions. Deal with them. 
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with Bennie
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with Bliss
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with BT
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with Fluttergirl
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with Gemma Files
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with Jane St. Clair
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with kimberlite
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with Maygra
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with Pilar
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with Te
- Citizens Against Bad Slash Interview with Wax Jism
Columns and Editorials
By CABS staff:
- Fear of "Said" (Don't worry. The word "said" isn't going to come after you with a shotgun. It's your friend. Embrace it.)
- Tell-All Opening Paragraphs (Leave a little to my imagination, will you?)
- Begging for Feedback (Give her feedback, everyone! We wouldn't want her to stop writing!)
- Being Wordy ("And on that dark, post-dusk night, it did so happen that it came to pass that Jim gazed longingly, in a loving way, at Blair." And other such nonesense.)
- Things That, People Who (It's fairly simple, really.)
- Fourteen Rules of Good Fanfic (...according to us and some people who are tired of reading bad stories.)
- Critiquing vs. Flaming: Know the Difference (...so you won't flame the nice person who spent two hours finding your typos.)
- Writing Tips for the Masses (An all-encompassing sort of opinion piece.)
- Before You Post: a Checklist (Things you should do before you unleash your brilliance to the world. (Opens a new window.)
- Our General Fanfic Peeves (Written in our early days of PMS. It's worth noting that both of us have broken almost every single rule here, but it's still worth pondering.)
- Striving for Greatness: Reasons Not to Say "Fuck Them Anyway" (I don't care if it's just for fun. There are still merits to trying to improve.)
- Encouraging Feedback for Your Story (...in case they're all ignoring you.)
- A Glossary of Slash Terms (TS? XF? PWP? WTF?)
- The Art and Ethics of Boyband RPS (In defence of BBS, from a moral, creative and legal standpoint, with some writing beefs thrown in for good measure.)
- The Second Semester (Find out the difference between plot and theme, and whether or not you should be using "who" or "whom," "like" or "as," etc.)
- Boy Band Slash (Boy band slash doesn't suck. Here's why.)
- CABS Awards 2000 (The good, the bad and the ugly of the year in slash.)
- Careless Underachievers ("This is my first attempt at slash. Hope you like it!")
- Check Your Head (Indicators that you have a big slash ego.)
- Days of Our Live(Journal)s (Posing for the sake of interactive slash fiction.)
- Failed Overachievers (Overly serious slash writers.)
- Girly Men (Men who call each other honey, sweetie and the ever famous "babe.")
- How Do you Come? (Screaming your head off and yelling out hockey scores? I want realistic orgasms, dammit.)
- The List Owner God Complex (So you moderate a mailing list. Get over it.)
- The Other Bad Fic Sites (Now it's their turn to get critiqued.)
- Pain and Suffering at the Hand of Slash Authors (Who knew there were so many damaged characters?)
- The RPS Debate (Real person slash - we love it, we hate it, we can't agree on it.)
- Sexy Pregnant Men? (Where did this pregnancy fic stuff come from?)
- Six Degrees of Badfic (Six different ways a story can be bad. Pick one.)
- Things You Should Never, Ever Do on a Mailing List (They sound like common sense, but they're so common that they're obviously not.)
- To All the Other Guys: Stop Fucking with RPS (Nancy Spungeon is mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore.)
- Untapped Slash Sources (Stuff people should slash but don't.)
- The X-Men (The older man, the younger man and all their friends.)
- Why I Don't Read or Post at Nifty (Four reasons why you won't find C. Miller at the Nifty archive.)
- Nicknames in 'N Sync Slash (Wonder Woman (an obvious pseudonym) is tired of the word "Lansten.")
- Women in Slash (Mistress Valkyrie preaches for the sisterhood and the treatment of women in slash.)
- The Never-Ending Story (The story that never ends, even when it should. By Mel Blue.)
- Underage (A 13 year old talks about why she doesn't suck. By SKitzo Skizas.)
- Boy Wonder's Rants and Musings: Gettin' Nekkid (A boy sounds off about his slash pet peeves.)
- The Opposite of Slash (Why you shouldn't write gay characters as straight. By Little Alex.)
- A Splash of Color (A rant on the 'monochromaticism' of 'N Sync slash and songfics. By Bohemia.)
- Feedback Faux Pas (The one-liner, the teenie-back and other undesirable feedback. By Bohemia.)
[Lucy Gillam: 1999]:
Sigh. Here I am, caught in one of those blasted double-binds again. I’m about to give more attention to people I think have already gotten too much attention already. I’m going to console myself by pointing out that the basic idea of this column was already floating around in that scary place known as Lucy’s Brain. And by being a little snarky. You don’t mind, do you?
It was inevitable, I suppose: the Fanfic Hall of Shame has been dead for over a year, so it was probably time for something to rise to fill the gap. In this case, it’s "Citizens Against Bad Slash."
A laudable cause, you’d think. I’m pretty opposed to bad fanfic myself. Yes, I believe that some stories are "bad," that characterization counts, that spellcheckers and beta readers are Our Friends, etc, etc, etc.
OTOH, I also think there’s such a thing as good fanfic, and this seems to be where I depart from "Jane" and "Virginia," the maintainers of the site.
"Jane" and "Virginia" (these are pseudonyms they’ve adopted, which is all fine and dandy – I entered fandom under the name "Lucy Gillam," and stopped using it only because switching the name on my Netscape mail became too much of a pain in the ass) identify themselves as "professional" writers who’ve dabbled in fanfic and gotten the same response everyone gets: "Good Story." They say that CABS is their retribution. I’m not entirely clear on what it’s retribution for: on one hand, they argue for better, more critical feedback, so it may be that they’re upset they didn’t get more advice on improving their craft. However, the overall tone of the piece seems to suggest that what they really wanted was some recognition of their superior writing abilities (if I’m wrong, ladies, please write and let me know).This, in fact, seems to be the overall cut and thrust of the site: fanfic is an inferior literary pursuit, and a denigration of writing as a craft (art/skill/pick-your-noun). The reason it is an inferior pursuit is that "stealing" someone else’s characters, putting creative energy into a story that uses characters and settings not of your own making, is laziness on the part of the writer. 
I have to admit that after reading their original front page (which they've toned down considerably in subsequent revisions), I was expecting something along the lines of the late, lamented Slash Hall of Shame. On reading the critiques, though, I was surprised. Jane and Virginia's commentary was restrained and pretty much on-target. As for the rest of the site... well, their actual writing advice is fairly basic, and doesn't go much beyond "Check your spelling, check your grammar, and get a beta reader." Sound advice, definitely, but it's hardly ground-breaking or revolutionary.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm against someone saying "Check your spelling" and the rest of it. It's just that from their introductory material, they were presenting themselves as daring iconoclasts who were here to bring enlightenment to us all. Problem is, people who care about their writing already care enough to tend to the mechanics. People who don't care... well, they're not going to take Jane and Virginia's advice in any event.
So why the uproar? Well, part of it is undoubtedly because of the confrontational tone of much of the original material. They didn't just say that there was a lot of bad fanfic out there, they took the position that fanfic is inherently inferior to anything about original characters, and that the existence of so much poor writing proves that fanfic is inferior. Of course, they then went on to list the Nifty Archives on their link page, presumably as a resource to find examples of good original writing. Has everyone heard about the child who finds a pile of manure beneath the Christmas tree, and plows right into it because darn, all that shit means there must be a pony underneath? That's how I feel when I go to the NA. There's some good stuff there but frankly, I don't want a pony bad enough to shovel that much shit out of the way. And the fact that Jane and Virginia feel free to recommend that site, and yet condemn fanfic as a whole because a lot of it is bad, indicates that maybe they haven't thought this critiquing business all the way through.
Another reason, one that hasn't been mentioned by too many others but that's been nagging at me, is Jane and Virginia's claim that they put up the page because they didn't receive any feedback beyond "Good story." Ordinarily, I don't think much of people who say "Duh." But, well... duh. If you post a story to a fanfic list or on a fanfic archive, it will be read by people who are fans. QED. True, some of those fans will be writers or editors or what have you. But the function of a fanfic list is emphatically not to teach people how to write; it's simply to share our visions of the characters. If you get a "good story!" letter, that tells you that on whatever level, you succeeded at least that far -- and really, that's as much as any of us can reasonably expect. Complaining that you didn't get useful writing criticism from a fanfic list is akin to complaining that your cat doesn't have supper on the table when you get home for work. It ain't supposed to, and only a fool would expect it. If you're primarily interested in improving your craft, it only makes sense to focus your efforts on those resources that are most likely to help you: writer's groups. There are lots of them out there, geared both to fanfic and original writing.
Of course, something that a lot of people have focused on is the fact that Jane and Virginia aren't "Jane and Virginia." Yep, we're now venturing into the wild world of pseudonyms. They state very clearly that they've published fiction, both professionally and on a fan level, but that they have no intention of revealing what they've written "for fear of retribution for rocking the fanfiction boat."
Now, there's nothing wrong with someone using a pseudonym for their writing. (A better question is why anyone wouldn't use a pseud. Lord almighty, what was I thinking?) For that matter, I know writers who use different pseuds for different fandoms, or for slash and gen, or for fiction and nonfiction -- or for fanfic and professional writing. No biggie. The liberating thing about the Internet is that it allows us some degree of control over how we are perceived. If someone writes humor in X-Files and heavy h/c angst in Highlander, it's perfectly understandable that she'd want to keep those areas separate.
I think the reason some people have a problem with the CABS writers is because of the bald statement that they're remaining anonymous because they don't want to rock the boat, and that they can't let anyone know what they've written because the readers will then judge them unfairly, as a form of revenge.
Unfortunately, this leaves them open to a whole range of assumptions, most or all of which might be completely unfounded. For one thing, it might lead readers to think that Jane and Virginia are so desperate for the approval of the very fandoms they claim to scorn that they won't do anything to connect their criticisms with their fanfic. They do, after all, clearly say that they're afraid of retribution. What possible form could that take? The only "retribution" that fans can deal out is either condemnation (i.e., their own stories will be criticized -- possibly unfairly -- in turn), or silence. And frankly, that kind of retribution is only dealt out by the more childish among us. Writers who are confident in their work will either shrug off the criticism or, more likely, read it to see if there's anything they can learn from it. Creating new identities solely so people won't link their criticism to their fiction smacks of sock puppetry. (And I received a request to explain 'sock puppets.' A sock puppet, simply put, is a deliberately false Internet alias created either to give an unrealistic sense of support for your position, or to anonymously attack someone without revealing your 'true' identity. Far as I know, the term originated on the newsgroup sci.skeptic and it's been spreading.)
Saying that they fear retribution for expressing their opinions honestly leaves Jane and Virginia open to the charge that they lack the courage of their convictions: they fear that either their fiction or their opinions can't withstand scrutiny. I don't fault them for using pseuds. But I do question their attempt to remain anonymous, and yet claim the authority that they know whereof they speak without letting us know where they're coming from. As I said in their guestbook, if you're going to talk the talk, you eventually have to walk the walk.Finally, on a purely visceral (and admittedly petty) level, I'm getting a little tired of people pompously proclaiming, "I take my writing seriously!" It implies that everyone else wears a Groucho Marx nose and sits on a whoopee cushion when they write. Just... knock it off, okay? 
There are those individuals in the world with so little sense of people -- so little basic tact or empathy -- that they can make you change your mind about a topic through the simple act of agreeing with you.
You've probably had this happen to you: You post what you feel is an insightful, yet perhaps slightly controversial note to some forum or other; you know, you just know, that some poor, fluffy schmuck out there is going to take offense. You're prepared for it, braced against it --
-- and it doesn't happen.
Or maybe it does happen, but by the time it happens, you don't care.
Because by that time, someone else has agreed with you -- publicly, vocally, with malice aforethought -- in such a way that you want to crawl into a hole and forget you ever said whatever it was you said in the first place. Maybe they have no diplomacy; maybe they're just jerks. Either way, they've said a lot of tacky things and made a lot of enemies in defense of something you've just supported in front of god and everybody.
Having been something of a defender of the concept of quality in fan fiction, and having spoken out frequently about the necessity for constructive criticism, I've been in that position a lot. It's been a long time, however, since such a fine opportunity to examine the phenomenon has been dropped into my lap. And I didn't have a rant page back then; don't you feel lucky now?
The Citizens Against Bad Slash page, in addition to being a sterling example of how to write really annoying HTML (beware of pages that serve no other purpose than to link you to other pages, busy backgrounds in the actual story critiques that make the text hard to read, links that are not underlined and don't appreciably change color when clicked, and links that pop up new browser windows instead of using the one you already have open), is also a sterling example of how to write really annoying commentary. They're giving a bad name to those of us who believe you can be constructive and critical at the same time -- and I so totally, so highly resent that. There's nothing constructive about stating:
"Bad writers give me heartburn; hence, I've been on a steady Pepto-Bismol diet since discovering the Internet. I'm sick of people calling themselves writers just because they coughed up some steaming turd of a porn story."
For those who, like me, are crusading for quality in feedback as well as quality in fiction -- take note. That is not the way to do it. Cruelty is not the way to elicit quality fiction from writers, any more than abuse is a way to elicit good behavior from children. General, free-floating nastiness is no way to motivate somebody.
It's an interesting tack, if you want to look at it that way -- kind of fighting fire with fire. You find some inferior fanfic; you build a web site and litter it with inferior feedback. Not terribly effective, and certainly not terribly friendly -- but one gets the idea that these self-styled, anonymous, "professional" writers aren't exactly looking to make friends.
Now, the truly irritating thing is -- the actual, individual story critiques are pretty good. Intensive, constructive, concise. I liked those, and agreed with both of the ones posted so far. And in other areas, they've got a lot of good things to say about technique, style, the importance of editing and self-editing, and how to keep aware of problem areas in one's writing.
They've also got a lot of opinions stated as bald facts, presented on stone tablets, and a lot of negativity about the very act of writing fanfic -- good or bad. The old "What I like is erotica, what you like is pornography" double standard is alive and well at the Cititizens Against Bad Slash site, but if you look between stanzas of arrogance, you can find some useful tips.
And yet another sigh...and a pause for a brief message from Angerville...
There's a feeling prevalent in fandom that writers are the upper crust; that to write is to be in with the in crowd, part of a superior breed. This idea is never more distasteful than when expressed by -- you guessed it -- a writer. Or a couple of writers, in this particular case, who wave their "writerhood" about like a banner of genius and emote in contemptuous tones about "real" writers vs -- well, everyone else.Say it with me, guys: Writers are just people. 
Citizens Against Bad Slash was— was basically a site that— See, I didn't have an antagonistic relationship with them, so I didn't actually— them, but they used to write comments and reviews of what they considered to be bad slash. Bad form, bad plotting, bad characterization, bad whatever. And they were not shy about it, but they also were— roughly, I mean it was run by people that nobody really knew. Like, the truth was is that I think we probably knew them, but we didn't know we knew. It was kind of like Sandy Herrold and Joanne's— her site]]. She ran a site called, oh, I can't— I want to say it was just Bad Slash, but she ran a site for a little while where she would critique slash under an anonymous name, which is one of the first things. And she tapped me on one, because I'd made some glaring mistakes in a story. But she would criticize them and point out the horribly bad wrong things about it, and people could respond. And I, y'know, responded to her the same way that I responded to the Citizens Against Bad Slash, was like, "Okay. I mean, you know, you're entitled to your opinion. I, y'know, think you're wrong, but, whatever." So I wasn't really antagonistic about it. And so when they talked to me about doing the interview, it really was kind of that, y'know— There’s bad slash and you're welcome to criticize it and it's fine, but yeah, you're gonna get flak over it. And you should not be afraid of that. I mean, y'know, we can point to any aspect of society and say that there's gonna be some people that are really over the top in their reactions. They're 'way, y'know, they could even become dangerous. But by and large, what you get is this emotional tantrum from people that get their feelings hurt. Yeah. They get their little feelings hurt and they have an emotional tantrum and they badmouth you to all your friends, and then it's like, "And? What?" You either have to have an opinion that you want to express, and are willing to take the heat from it, or you don't. The choice is yours. If you're gonna do it, then you need to not be afraid that there's gonna be flak. And, you know, if you are afraid of that, you need to not be a dick about it. (laughter) I mean, basically....
But Citizens Against Bad Slash was— They were kind of brutally honest, they weren't necessarily— You know, they were more pretentious, I think, about their aims than they actually were in practice, in a lot of ways. They were, y'know, they had high-minded goals, and that "We don't care what you think," but obviously they did care, or they had some anxiety about it, because they never revealed themselves, by anything that anyone would recognize. And it seemed highly unlikely to me, even when I was talking to them, that they would have come into this blind. They had obviously been in fandom, or some fandom, for a while. So they would not necessarily come in there blind, and just start this. So there was some history there somewhere, and they did a very good job of keeping themselves secret, and I to this day don't know who they were. Nor do I care. My comment to them originally was, "You're welcome to say this, and I'm not gonna— I don't actually care if you say it, but you know. Don't refuse to engage once you start it." And that was basically how we started up whatever relationship it was to have. And they wanted to do the interview and I said, "Sure. I'll be glad to answer whatever you want." And I said I have strong opinions and sometimes they're not popular, and I don't really care, y'know?