Fandom: The Academic Kiss of Death, OR My Ongoing Meta on OTW

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Title: Fandom: The Academic Kiss of Death, OR My Ongoing Meta on OTW
Creator: lithiliana
Date(s): January 3rd, 2010
External Links: Fandom: The Academic Kiss of Death, OR My Ongoing Meta on OTW; archive link
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Fandom: The Academic Kiss of Death, OR My Ongoing Meta on OTW is a 2010 post by lithiliana.

There are 126 comments to this post.

"My personal pet peeve is the ongoing "academics are OTW and they are out to take over fandom" (and I guess, grade it? mark it up with red ink?). I left an apa I was in once because of all the anti-academic bashing that happened, and I have let us say ISSUES."

Some Topics Discussed


I'm not going to convince anybody who thinks that academics have no business being fans, or writing about fans, but I am interested in clarifying some things for people who have questions about academics, fandom, and fan studies, and why we do what we do. Among other things, I'm here to say that with the exception of Henry Jenkins, few people so far have gained any academic status from doing fan studies; that may or may not change in the future, but right now--nope. In fact, if I hadn't already been tenured, I wouldn't have started publishing on fan fiction because I probably wouldn't have goten tenure (doing feminist sf and popular culture was bad.)

The claim is made that any fic handed over to A03 is giving them permisison to use it in their dissertation.


First of all, those of us who have our degrees are not planning on using fic for our dissertations; we're planning on using it for our articles. But more seriously: there are people doing academic work on fan fiction. SOME of us who are ACTIVE in fandom often (meaning: the people I know who I've talked about this with) choose to ask permission, but any academic who sees a fan story in a public setting (archive, blog, open LJ) can take that fic and analyze it if they wish because it's in a public place (public enough that publishers consider that posting your work on the internet constitutes "prior publication"). I know of one academic who does just that: she's a medievalist; she reads in LOTR fandom; she never thought to ask permisison because *nobody* trained in literary studies ever has to ask permission to analyze a text that's publicly available. Today, she might ask since she's met some of us who pursue that policy. But it's not required, any more than a journalist reading around on the internet for smutty stories thinks they have to ask permission to write about something that is posted in public. Any story in any archive or on any blog or in any open post in LJ MIGHT be written about (odds are slim, given the relative number of fics vs. number of academics writing on fan fiction), but it could happen. Nobody's setting up the A03 to be "prime hunting ground" for academics in training.

The internet is one of the biggest most amazing SHINIES out there; to expect academics NOT to study it is expecting academics not to study the big new shiny (actually a lot of academics are totally anti-internet, but there's always disagreements. Put three academics in a room, and you'll have seven positions being argued within half an hour).

And fandom is on the internet. And it's not just fandom: the BIGGEST SEXIST NEW SHINY out there is gaming scholarship....

Does anybody out there post against people doing gaming scholarship? If so, I'd love to see it. But I've never seen it.

Why do you think that is?

A number of (almost completely) white women faculty doing fan fiction studies in online media LJ fandom? We're minnows in the academic pond, and we know it. Among the people I know (NOT exhaustive list), many are grad students, junior faculty, and independent scholars. We do the work, and we love it, but if you think we're getting status out of it, you need to take a big dose of reality pills.

But see, we CAN do it because (my personal theory) since we're white women, we don't have to risk that status--we wouldn't have it even if we did major canonical things.

See, here I'll go further than Salvidar who says: "OTW is "regarded as a joke in most academic circles."

Ha! It would be a STEP UP to be regarded as a joke because that would mean they know about it!

OTW is totally not known in most academic circles.

It's not known in a whole lot of FANNISH circles.

When I mention LiveJournal in any group of academics I've been in recently where they're all talking about Twitter and Facebooks and should they friend students, they all LOOK BLANK.

LiveJournal isn't known in most academic circles.

Excerpts from Comments at the Post


Ahhh, Robin, you get such great discussions going! Not enough time to give it all the pets it deserves, but here's my drive-by on the central issues:

I see at least three or four different issues (if not more) in the anti-academic sentiment. It only seems to be all the same complaint, but it's really different concerns that only happen to use some of the same terms (and then not always with the same meanings), or be seen as a single issue the academics. The concerns/complaints/accusations about academics, academic jargon, attitudes and OMG, The Sekrit Academic Conspiracy Agenda, are vectoring in from different experiences and social positions relative to who they perceive they're responding to. After all, there's an awful lot of diversity packed into the mostly (white) (middle-class) (US) (women) academics themselves. There's just as much diversity to those who are suspicious of them.

As you point out, academia is huge, the disciplines are many, and even those in the humanities/social science areas that are most likely to study fandom and/or house aca's who are also fans (and admit to both) are soooo huge, and fractured, and fractious. There's no way that "the" aca-fan attacked is all one. But it's also likely that many making the complaint don't see the diversity amongst academics and aca-fans, in turn.

So whenever fans express this suspicion of academics in fandom, I first wonder just which ones they mean?

And then, just what do they mean? It's not always clear, especially when it's just a drive-by swipe, not detailed enough to be clear.

I'm sure there are some common elements of the general complaint, but even that is often differently inflected, and comes up in different contexts too. So just as someone's sweeping generalization about "academics" and their goals in fandom gets major eyerolls from some of us (whoever "we" are - hey, I wanna be a card-carrying aca-fan! We need some cards, and our own comm (and god, let it NOT be anything like academics_anon with its rabid inner circle clique of wankers), and oh yes, AN AGENDA FOR TAKING OVER FANDOM), I simply can't regard all of the "anti-academics" as coming from the same place.

Yes, I agree that much of it is unwarranted. But if I learned anything doing public participation on big controversies it's that always, at least some of the people lobbing caustic comments or complaints *always* have a point. It's just important to figure out what the discourse is rather than dismissing it tout court, generalizing it, or essentializing those making it.

FREX: Some of the complaints are about language - toomany unfamiliar terms - but some are about style (dense! and yes, I write "dense" but it's *my* field's dense, which is not at all the same as that crazy dense shit from the lit-crit and media-studies people!) - and some just hate the length. HEE.

Others are not troubled by the aca discourse, but are deeply suspicious of the goals. Within that, some are coming from the "keep fandom sekrit" camp (not just an anti-academic thing, and includes some academics too (as I know you know: like, esp, the non-tenured ones!)

Others, as you say, are all "I am not your freaking study subject." But there's always some antipathy toward researchers/government/bureaucracy/docto​rs (well-founded in many cases!); this comes from a place that is not just anti-academic. Then there's the "don't commercialize/profit/get tenure off me". Another rather broad area of concern that has some separate threads within it, too.

Now, why does some of this anti-academic bias get aimed at OTW? First off, academia/=/social class, but it's close. That's some of it. Second, as I've said before, OTW's public communications sucked almost worse than 6A's for at least the first year (I haven't been paying attention in 2009, but of course the first year is the crucial one) and nothing arouses suspicion faster than opaque bureaucratic communication from an org that has ambitions to represent/serve "all of us" but clearly is not all of us. I see missteps, not megalomania, though. Plus, OTW was bound to draw some fire just because FANDOM, OMG DON'T LETS EVER ALL AGREE.
[tasha18]: Interesting. When I was an undergrad at Brown, I wrote my thesis on fanfiction and its relationship with postmodernism (especially Jacques Derrida's archive fever) and the Jewish exogenical tradition. part of my research involved conducting a survey of fans, because I was interested in their motivations for writing. Reading the anti academizing and OTW posts has made me wonder if I was attempting to legitimize something that by its very definition should not be legitimized, but from what you seem to be saying, fanfiction is very far from entering anything but the margins of academia.
[kattahj]: Thank you so much for this! It's great to hear such an eloquent voice of sanity. If OTW are evil for academizing fandom, I've been evil since I wrote my first essay on fandom in 2001. I really prefer it when we do it ourselves to when journalists write articles on fandom that have words like "homofucking" in the headline. (I wish I was making that up.)

May I just say, I love you for this post? So much? Particularly as I am a PhD student in Telecommunications who is primarily a games scholar but who has also written on media and game fandome and cosplay communities...

That I'm a woman doing game scholarship is going to get me a career, I hope. The fandom stuff gets totally blank looks from most people in my department. (Okay, not all, the evolutionary psychology-lovin' sex & media researcher finds slash pretty fascinating for perhaps obvious reasons. But still, I'm in a social sciences department. Talking about fandom communities is silly, and unless I get them in a media lab and stick suction cups on their faces while they watch their fav tv show, or survey 1000 people, it's not worth doing. But I digress.)

Point: The comments that get thrown around by people who Think They Know How It Works have been killing me as I catch up on the past few months of meta. (Got too busy this past semester taking a course overload, whoops.) Thanks for making all this SENSE.