Fan Fiction and the Bourgeoisification of Creativity

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Title: Fan Fiction and the Bourgeoisification of Creativity
Commentator: Communist Corresponding Society
Date(s): December 2013
Medium: online
Fandom: fanfic
External Links: here: WebCite
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Fan Fiction and the Bourgeoisification of Creativity was written by an unidentified author at the "Communist Corresponding Society."

Some topics discussed: gender imbalance, unpaid work, and TPTB.

Some Excerpts

Does fan fiction—fiction written by fans of a franchise within a community of fellow fan fiction writers, using the original's characters or fictional universe—represent a democratization of art (a foreshadowing, even, of communism) or is it an exploitative tool of bourgeois hegemony? Fan fiction has indeed been hailed by some as a democratic form, and there is a perspective from which it may be seen as such. If one considers the pertinent power structure to be the power of the artist over the audience in relation to the content of the artwork, then fan fiction may be framed as a seizing of control over an artwork by its audience as a whole.

Fan fiction is in one sense a peripheral response to the ideological hegemony of bourgeois mass culture; but in another sense it contributes to it, both ideologically and in terms of surplus value. As well as practising technique, fan fiction writers are, by taking as their ground the produce of the mass culture industry, practising, and even in a sense testing themselves and each other, on the bourgeois ideology that industry promotes. But also, as the rate of profit falls, so capital needs to find new areas of exploitation. And one part of this process is imperialism (expansion of exploitation geographically), but another part is the expansion of unpaid labour in time. Fan action can be seen in this light as a form of unpaid labour from which surplus value is extracted by the corporations that own the franchises around which the fan action occurs. Fan labour (to include fan fiction, but also conventions, discussion fora, vidding, etc) is unpaid public relations, content generation, and advertizing work for the franchise. With often long gaps between seasons of any given television series, fan life (the perspective of being a consumer of this industry's products) is kept alive, ready for the next period of distribution, by fan fiction and other fan activities.

It has been suggested that the "participatory logic" of the modern web is similar to and ideally suited to the practices of fandom. And indeed, the blurring of the boundary between consumer and producer is a part of both. As Jenkins has noted, digital technology permits easy production and distribution, but also "easier manipulation of existing content". And in a sense, this is genuinely participatory and democratic: the tools to take part in creation are more readily available to most people. And, in a sense, this—and the influence of fan action on production (as with the return of Sherlock Holmes)—is a sort of democracy. However, this is a peculiarly bourgeois sort of democracy: it has the appearance of universality, while serving and protecting the interests of the ruling class. Mass culture shapes the tastes and demands of the market, which in turn shapes the production of mass culture. If it is a democracy, it is a democracy of consumption. The working writer does not have full control over their own fictional universe: any consumer of that universe can and does create and share and influence developments within that universe.

Fan fiction (and mass culture more generally) has the appearance of a democratization, because in a way it is progressive. Tesco is a beacon of modernity, shining a light towards an idyllic communist future; and yet communist food stores will not stock mislabelled horsemeat and slaughterhouse scrapings. And, just as mass culture brings a canon of sorts to the people, so fan fiction brings the active component of access to culture to the people; and yet communist writing communities will not be devoted to a canon determined by the bourgeois mass culture industry, but will have access to the best in the arts as reference points they share with their comrades. This article's opening dichotomy, then, is a false one. Like so many developments in modern capitalism, fan fiction is a characteristically bourgeois development, in that it is still structurally bound to class society and exploitation, while also pointing beyond capitalism towards a free communist future. Art, like science, like all industries, will be democratized when its priorities reflect the considered, well-informed priorities of the people, and when its products are available to all. Art, like all forms of work, will be democratized when people who work in it have control over their own work. And art, like all areas of human activity, will be democratized when anyone who wants to can have access to the resources, tools and information, necessary for competent participation in it.