Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World

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Academic Commentary
Title: fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World
Commentator: Anne Jamison
Date(s): 2013
Medium: print pro book
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fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World is a book by Anne Jamison.

cover

Contributors and Resources

It has a foreword by Lev Grossman and was "with Amber Benson, Christina Lauren, Ron Hogan, Heidi8 and other fan and professional writers."

It has interviews with Jonathan Lethem, Doug Wright, Eurydice (Vivien Dean), and Katie Forsythe/wordstrings.

Other:

Reactions and Reviews

2013

The book also explores literary practices that pre-date fanfiction as we commonly know it. In an early chapter, Jamison cites examples of fans that feel a sense of ownership of another author’s creation: she recounts the correspondence between a passionate teen fan and Samuel Richardson about the end of his novel Clarissa and mentions William Makepeace Thackeray, who wrote proto-fanfic about Rebecca in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Jamison illustrates that the desire to “play in the sandboxes” of other writers is not just limited to amateur or novice writers but is part of a broader literary culture.

Fic explores the continually evolving relationships between fiction creators, owners, and fans- an interaction between media creators and fans that existed well before the internet and even television. For example, Jamison mentions that Star Trek showrunners were very much aware of the show’s early zine fandom and actually tweaked the show’s focus to Kirk and Spock’s friendship as a response to the tastes of female fans. Jamison connects the parallel histories of literary critique and commentary writing, early print-based science fiction zine fandom, early internet fan-writing communities, and contemporary media fandoms including Harry Potter and Twilight.

All of this is done in a very accessible, personal way. It’s an academic book for sure but Jamison’s writing reflects sincere enthusiasm for the fan-fiction community as well her literary education. She is not comfortable using the term “aca-fan” to describe her work, but if anything is a perfect marriage of scholarly knowledge and fangirl enthusiasm, it’s Jamison’s writing in this book.

However, Jamison does not serve as Fic’s singular voice, and in fact, stresses within the book that the fan-fiction community is best represented through featuring a diversity of voices and perspectives. The book is primarily an anthology, featuring critical essays, interviews, and personal essays from a wide swath of fandoms and genre writing communities (Francesca Coppa, Kristina Busse and Amber Benson to name just three.) The anthology format opens up the conversation on provocative fandom topics (Real Person Fic, Slash, the influence of Big Name Fans and fan-writers gone pro like Cassandra Clare and E.L. James) This diversity sometimes makes the quality and voice of some of the writing inconsistent compared to Jamison’s solid contributions. Even so, Fic is definitely an informative and enjoyable guide to the culture and history of fan-fiction that will appeal to veteran fan-writers and pop-culture folloers [sic] who may be too intimidated to jump into this rich subculture. [1]

2014

I'm familiar with fanfiction and its fandom, so I was very interested to read this book. Some parts of it were very interesting, but the book as a whole is very inconsistent. Parts of the book aspire to provide academic analysis; other parts are just musings on fans and fandom. At times the book treats its subject seriously, at other times it's humor or even silly; it's especially jarring when the discussion turns to sex and sexuality in fanfic, because sometimes it's treated as a serious sociological topic (which it is) and other times feels thrown in for laughs or shock value. Sometimes the book seems to be trying to support the normative claim that fanfic is a longstanding and worthy form of fandom participation (which it is), but other times it comes across as simply descriptive of fans and their viewpoints. Some of the writing is very clear and readable, but the opening chapter is opaque and confusing. Overall, it felt as though the book's editor, who is also the author of the academic sections of the book, wasn't sure what she wanted to accomplish with the book, and so just included everything rather than picking one or more major themes or points and sticking to those throughout. All of that said, some parts of the book were very well done and very interesting. The open sections on the history of fanfic and fandom, pointing out that this form of fan participation goes back centuries, was very well written. I particularly liked how the author made reference to modern terms (like 'shipping and trolling) in connection with those historical patterns; it just goes to show how longstanding the fanfic tradition really is. The section on Sherlock Holmes fanfic, from literally more than a century ago to he BBC series today, was fascinating too, as was the chapter on Star Trek zines. [2]
Sometime after the release of the first Harry Potter movie, I found myself navigating the message boards on the official Harry Potter website. I found my first fanfiction in the least intuitive of places. After all, I had to scroll through all of the posters begging for updates to locate the precious update in the first place. And I simply had to remember what stories I was interested in keeping tabs on, as there was no way to track otherwise. However, I became a part of my first fandom. While I tried my hand at being a fanfiction author in my early teens, I quickly realized I was in reality a fanfiction consumer. I have gleefully consumed a lot of fanfiction since that time, though not necessarily unabashedly until the last couple of years. Regardless, my life has been significantly altered fanfiction. I have been reading it approximately half my life, over half my reading life, and all of my transformative years. I am interested in how fanfiction, and the fanfiction community, alters ones world views. I think looking at fan communities from a largely enthographic standpoint is fascinating. Overall, this book pushed the right buttons for me and got me thinking in a good way. Was it perfect? No. But fanfiction, taken from the perspective of all the varying fandoms, is a lot to cover.

I am slightly disappointed that the Twilight fandom, by and large, got the largest section. I do not quarrel with the fandom’s importance, as the publishing industry has definitely been impacted, even if some of the articles about this impact could feel repetitive toward the end. Rather than giving Twilight less attention, I wish another fandom had been given more as well. This is largely due to the facts pointed out in the book that in many ways the Twilight fandom reinvented the wheel.

I will be interested to see what my friends who aren’t as familiar with fanfiction as me, but have expressed interest in the book, think in terms of its accessibility to the culture. A glossary of fanfiction terms may have been a helpful bonus, even if they’re quickly explained in the text. However, the conundrum of a Mary Sue goes far beyond self-insertion at this point. However, this is also complicated because the specifics of definition switch from fandom to fandom. This doesn’t cover everything in regards, but it covers a lot and does it in a thoughtful manner overall. And hopefully will get some people thinking. [3]
Based on the long list of names above, I assumed that FIC: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World was a collection of academic essays edited by Anne Jamison. But no, it is a long scholarly work by Anne Jamison with periodic short essays by other people with various perspectives on fandom has a whole.

FIC is divided into sections based on several megafandoms. The first four, on Sherlock, Star Trek, Buffy, and the X-Files, are fairly well done. Sherlock and Star Trek both cover a great deal of pre-internet fanfiction, while Buffy and the X-Files cover the beginning of fic on the internet. The Harry Potter and Twilight sections are shakier. I felt that Harry Potter went by quicker than the other sections, and glossed over some things. Jamison glosses over Cassandra Claire's plagiarism (the most important being several pages of Pamela Dean's writing), trying to make it just a game and pulling out the old fic is basically plagiarism anyway. (It isn't.) There's an essay from Heidi8/Heidi Tandy that presents her as a totally reliable point of view instead of a figure frequently at the heart of controversy.

Then we get to Twilight. Jamison is clearly too close to the fandom to really give a good portrait. She is very clearly in favor of pull-to-publish, or P2P. The other side of the argument is given short shrift in favor of several essays by people who agree with Jamison's point of view. In fact, the authors of BEAUTIFUL BASTARD get an essay together in addition to individual essays.

But I must say that the essays are the best part of FIC. The essay authors make fewer pretenses about their biases and only focus on the narrow aspects of fandom that they are experts in. Jamison shows some of her ignorance just by what she chooses to include. [snipped] [4]
I keep going back and forth about this book. Some parts are really well-written and interesting. She provides some valuable historical detail about readers' relationship with published material, over the course of centuries, and she writes interestingly enough about the Sherlock Holmes fandom that I went out and found the original Conan Doyle stories (which I'd never read before). But her style can be really, really grating. She will use common terms out of the fanfiction community -- AU, slash, etc. -- to describe writers of earlier centuries, writing in response to books they loved, and she'll do it in this annoying, heavy-handed way. She will explain what every single term means, as if her high-flown professorial audience has certainly never heard THAT term before. She seems to have gone through all of fanfiction, to find the stories that most represent the graduate-level lit-crit concepts she learned at college, and she showcases those as being THE BEST reasons for respecting fanfiction. She writes about the fandom for BBC's Sherlock, and expresses this huge, enormous surprise, that -- Oh my goodness! -- somebody wrote a fic where Sherlock was a cat. Oh wow, somebody else wrote one where he wore high heels. And my gosh, look at all the SEX in there! Did you know people pair him with John Watson? As in SEXUALLY?!? I'm guessing this was her dissertation, and before she published it for a general audience she should have taken a step back and really thought about who would be reading. Maybe a few professors would like this book as-is, but speaking as a member of several fandoms, I felt condescended to. And I don't suspect people who have never been in a fandom are even going to look twice at it. [5]

As much as I hate to start any review (or any piece of published work) with any kind of reference to Fifty Shades of Grey, I must, lamentably, concede defeat this one (and only!) time, as the topic at hand unfortunately necessitates it.

E.L. James' trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels) has caused quite the furor over the past few years: originally penned as a work of fan fiction, the title brought its author a seven-figure publishing deal, the top of the bestseller list, and international acclaim. Amid flying accusations of plagiarism (she did, after all, start working with another author's characters) and criticisms of the novel's portrayal of BDSM (which ranges from inaccurate to outright disturbing), the whole endeavor did also serve to bring the existence of fan fiction into the limelight - and probably give it a bit of a bad name in the process.

Fic: How Fan Fiction is Changing the World follows on the heels of this whole fiasco, and it seeks to set the record straight about fan fiction. It's an attempt at a comprehensive look at the history of fan fiction (with the caveat that fan fiction is too broad for any book on it to be truly comprehensive), as well as an exploration of its merits, its significance, and the communities that surround it. And, for the most part, it's an articulate, informed, and engaging text, providing a respectful and non-judgmental overview.

Author Anne Jamison takes as her premise the idea that fan fiction is transformative work rather than derivative work (an important distinction), which allows her to proceed on to exploring fan fictions' power to question cultural norms, resist patriarchal conceptions of gender, sex, and sexuality, respond to, critique, and parody source texts, and to create communities. Of course, the way that fan fiction's done these things has changed over time, as new cultural texts and new technologies have come into being, their interaction often fundamentally changing the landscape of fan interaction with source texts, its creators, and each other. Thus, Jamison's book is laid out in chronological order, examining the history and developments of fan fiction in relation to new literary and media works, new technologies, and new cultural climates, and raising any issues relevant to a particular period or fandom as she goes.

Jamison's more than qualified to write this history: she's a professor of English and a literary historian who also teaches classes on popular culture and fan fiction. She combines literary analysis with literary history, while not eschewing a good handful of other fields and their perspectives, and the result is a more than excellent account. She begins this chronology at what is arguably fan fiction's very roots - ancient Greece and Rome, where Virgil borrowed Homer's characters and all the poets wrote about the same gods and heroes, and runs through a quick literary history ranging from medieval romance to Shakespeare and George Eliot.

But the true beginning of the story is Sherlock Holmes, and Jamison gives an interesting and engaging account of the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon since the time of the publication of the stories; even I, an avid Sherlockian, found new pieces of information to absorb. Sherlock Holmes is an even more complex case to study, what with a BBC show that calls itself fan fiction, which then inspires its own fan fiction, and the fact that there's a Sherlockian trend to pretend Holmes was real and Doyle was but a literary agent. Sherlock Holmes "fan fiction" piles layers upon layers of complexity, as a hundred years of advancing technology have changed fan fiction and yet haven't changed it. Jamison both understands this and explains it in accessible ways, but, though endlessly intriguing, the section on Sherlock Holmes is woefully, lamentably short. It's like the richest chocolate cake you've ever had, but served as the thinnest possible slice.

Following Sherlock Holmes, Jamison moves through the history of literary science fiction and sci-fi fanzines, touching upon the interaction and blurry lines between fans and authors back in the day of said fanzines. She then delves into Star Trek, the first show with a real media fandom, and the stunning impact that had on, well, everything. From the way media fandom arose as a reaction to science fiction fandom and the reasons why it became largely dominated by women to its explorations of sex and sexuality, it is, again, engaging, and also very clear that Jamison's done her research. As an academic who dabbles in this area of study myself, I can often pinpoint exactly what Jamison's sources were and what ideas she's articulating. That isn't a bad thing, because it means that Jamison knows exactly what she's talking about, and manages to articulate it in an elegant and engaging way for the layperson rather than the academic.

After Holmes and Star Trek, Jamison moves on to the X-Files, Buffy, and Harry Potter. These are the fandoms that marked the beginning of the Internet age, which is likely how we know fandom today, and so it's eye-opening to read about what fandom looked like when everyone was only just beginning to have their own (dial-up) internet access (ah, the memories.), as well as what impact this groundbreaking new technology had on creativity and community.

Lastly, Jamison moves on to the Twilight fandom, and that's where the book starts to slide downhill. Though she presents a compelling argument for the way this "Saga's" fan community has changed the fan fiction landscape, the same could well have been done in half as many words. Of course, Jamison's area of expertise is precisely Twilight fan fiction, so this 100-page chunk is no surprise; despite her expertise, however, this section of the book quickly spirals into an endless repetition of the same ideas: Twilight as a fandom removed from other fandoms, a new relationship with the source text, and seemingly endless concerns about publishing fan fiction (precipitated by a focus on Fifty Shades of Grey).The problems that the publication of fan fiction creates for fan fiction's ability to resist the narrow norms of popular culture are endlessly raised, and every page of it feels like a blow to the other fandoms Jamison's covered, which are arguably equally important.

The last section of the book is by far the weakest, lacking any coherency besides the theme of "Fan Fiction Today." It provides a quick overview of a number of modern fandoms (Supernatural, My Little Pony, and others) that contribute little besides a cursory introduction to a particular text. There's also a section on "conceptual writing," which has the dubious merit of being so dull that even an academic had to painfully plough her way through it.

However, the book isn't all Jamison, but is also sprinkled with a variety of other voices throughout the text. It moves away from the traditional format of a SmartPop book (a collection of essays by different people on one topic), and instead lists Jamison as the author who provides the overarching narrative while including a handful of contributions from other authors. Jamison's correctly understood that fan fiction is too broad a term for one person to generalize about it, and so, in the spirit of fan fiction and the community of collaboration inherent to it, she invites some incredibly important figures to contribute. There's an incredibly impressive list of contributors, and yet the parts of the book not written by Jamison are spectacularly hit-and-miss.

On the plus side, Jacqueline Lichtenberg (an enormously important figure in the Star Trek fandom, especially back when it was getting off the ground) provides an overview of what fandom and fan fiction culture was like in the day of the fanzines (imagine having to collate your fanfic and sent it out via the actual mail). Chris Rankin (who played Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter movies) provides an interesting overview of Harry Potter fandom, as does Heidi Tandy, an intellectual property lawyer. Frencesca Coppa provides an incredibly compelling history of An Archive of Our Own (for the uninitiated, it is a much neater, more effective, and more usable version of FanFiction.net). But many of the contributions are unhelpful and unnecessary, ranging from a variety of fic authors repeating the same ideas of why they write to uninteresting interviews (either it's the questions Jamison asked or the writers' hesitation, but there's little insight in these pages). Kristina Busse, despite editing an excellent collection of essays on fan fiction, provides an unfortunately useless overview of fan fiction tropes, and a few actors talk about their personal experiences with fan fiction.

Overall, however, I feel much more highly informed, and pleased about the fact. I do, however, wish that Jamison had included some sort of bibliography. This may not be a rigorously academic title, and certainly there's sources scattered throughout the endnotes, but this title is nevertheless much more scholarly than many of SmartPop's other titles, and would have benefited from sharing its sources with its more academically inclined readers. Nevertheless, this book is an important contribution, neither uselessly re-iterating well-entrenched ideas nor providing an outsider's inaccurate account. It's an important and necessary contribution to a collection on the study of popular culture, elucidating an important cultural phenomenon and doing it well. [6]

2015

This is an excellent introduction to the history of fan fiction for the lay reader. Jamison’s a college professor who studies fan fic for a living, and she gives a history of it starting in the middle ages and proceeding to the modern day, including talking about how various forms of media (the internet, television, etc…) have influenced the way fan fic is written and the way communities form around it. Also, she interviews a lot of authors and other people who were around in fandom for a long time. [7]
In an anthology like this, you're always going to get a mixed bag. I *loved* the essay about being fannish in non-Western countries, for example, but the section about Twilight was less interesting. Jamison was never going to be able to make everyone happy, of course, but I wish she had made more mention of smaller fandoms.

The tone of the book kept shifting, too: was it trying to explain fandom to outsiders? trying to celebrate it with insiders? studying it from a sociological perspective? I could never tell. Non-fannish people would probably be completely lost by page 2, fannish people would already know about 75% of the information in the book, and most of it is too informal to constitute a serious scientific study.

But it's good to see fandom and the fannish experience getting attention from mainstream publishing. More like this, please! [8]
This was an interesting book, and I enjoyed reading it. I've never been a real participator in any fandom, but I'm definitely a big lurker, and I have a lot of opinions on fanfic. However, despite generally enjoying this book, I had some pretty big problems with it. The biggest of which was that I wish the book had been more balanced. If you're going to write a book about fanfic, I think it's important to not just discuss what it adds to fandom/media, but to also look at it critically.

There was one essay about the lack of racial diversity in a lot of fanfic, but in a lot of ways the essay focused more on the lack of diversity in the media that fanfic is based on. There was no discussion about the sexism/internalized misogyny that can be a huge issue in fandom - I think it would have been good to have a section on why slash fic and mpreg are the most popular genres when they often completely females from the picture, as well as looking at how female characters that get into the way of ships are treated. Especially considering most of these works are written by women. I also wish there had been a rebuttal to the RPF essay. Full disclosure, RPF makes me super uncomfortable. I understand that a lot of people who write it say that they're writing fictional versions of these real people, but given the content of most of the works I'm not sure that makes much difference. Certainly it is important to have a defense of RPF in the book since it is generally derided, but I think that the other side of the debate should have been given a voice as well.

Overall, I found the book to be more of a defense of fanfic and a discussion of why it is awesome, and I really would have preferred a book that looked critically at both sides of the issue. [9]


References

  1. Book Review: Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, Archived version by Keirdra at The Learned Fangirl
  2. comment by Everdeen25 at Amazon (2014)
  3. comment by Melody at Amazon (2014)
  4. comment by Liviania at Amazon (2014)
  5. comment by Wendy at Amazon (2014)
  6. Book Review: 'Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World' by Anne Jamison by Anastasia Klimchynskaya, BLOGCRITICS.ORG, February 22, 2014
  7. Fandom History Resources; Archive (August 2015)
  8. comment by Aubrei at Amazon (2015)
  9. comment by Laura at Amazon (2015)