Keep it secret, keep it safe

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Title: keep it secret, keep it safe
Creator: musesfool
Date(s): September 26, 2006
Medium: online
External Links: keep it secret, keep it safe; archive link
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keep it secret, keep it safe is a 2006 essay by musesfool.

It was written in response to a recent article in "The Wall Street Journal" called Rewriting the Rules of Fiction.

Some Topics Discussed


So I've been reading the various posts that have proliferated since the WSJ article, posts on the subject of fannish visibility and who is in fandom and what is fandom and well, all that stuff... and as always, there are some generalizations that bother me (even as I make other generalizations my own self), and I started thinking about how to me there's small-f fandom, as in "I'm in Buffy fandom" or "I'm in HP fandom" - which, for me, is always, always a self-selecting, self-identifying label (who am I to tell someone they're *not* in a fandom?), and that my perceptions of my own way of being in fandom are constantly blurring, to the point that I'm often hesitant to say what small-f fandom(s) I'm in, or which is my "primary" fandom (i.e., in which fandom does most of my fannish activity ["fanac"] take place); then I think there's slightly larger, polyfandom pool of folks who identify, say, as "slash fans" or the more focused "slashers", who are more fans of that particular genre than they are of a particular source text, and there are fans who are "vid fans" in that that is their preferred genre, across canon lines, etc.

And then there is captial-F Fandom, which I tend to refer to as Fandom-at-Large ["Fandom"], which includes all of us here (there, and everywhere) in every small-f fandom who partake in some way (especially the consumers, the readers and even the lurkers - they are the large majority, and while yes, decisions are made by those who show up - i.e., only the people who actually speak in online fandom will ever be heard - and I still get a huge laugh whenever someone trots out that old chestnut, "the lurkers support me in email" - without the the people who eagerly read and watch and comment, fandom would be a lot less fun, and the stuff we write would have much, much smaller audiences [how many fan writers do you know who don't read much fic? I know quite a number of them, actually, so it's not like we can all count on each other to be the audience] and good lord, could I use any more parentheticals in this paragraph? [/chandler]) and I feel that quite often in this end of LJ fandom, the discussants, the archivists, the folks who do canon analysis and spec, the people who don't write fic, [eta] the reccers, the community and list mods, [/eta] and of course, the ever-important readers of fanfic and meta and canon analysis, are overlooked in favor of the almighty Fic Writer (and hey, how often do we forget to include the Vidder and the Fan Artist and the Icon Maker [a category unheard of before the move to LJ]? A lot. We forget them a lot, and they're producers as well, but fanfic fandom is a cult of the writer and has been for as long as I've participated in it {which, to be fair, is only 6 years *as* a writer, so I don't know if it's always been that way}].

And that exclusion, as always, bothers me, because hey, I started out in Fandom as a lurker, and for two years before I started writing fic, my participation was via discussion groups on Usenet and I was certainly as vocal there as I am here.

Which was, wow, a really long way of getting to this point about how fannish behavior is becoming mainstream and the various responses we as fans who have been here a while have to that.

Flash forward to 1991, aka, the year punk broke, or, more accurately, the year Nirvana hit it big, and broke down the wall between what was alternative at that time and what was mainstream, so that alternative became mainstream and you started hearing The Cure and Depeche Mode and Mudhoney and Screaming Trees etc. on mainstream and classic rock radio stations.

And I can tell you right now, I hated that. I hated those fucking poseurs in their stupid overpriced Abercrombie and Fitch flannels and their shiny new Doc Martens who acted as if they'd invented alternative rock. I hated those people co-opting my secret language, the special thing that only I and millions a handful of other people knew about.

I hated those bandwagon jumpers, the people who'd mocked me in high school for my musical taste, who were suddenly all over it as if they'd always been there, and hadn't been listening to Poison and Warrant while I was listening to The Smiths and XTC.

But I know it's hard to share your secret love with the world, to watch other people discover and try to own something that means so much to you. You want to wrap it up and keep it secret, keep it safe, because everybody knows popularity is the death of art (or at least of coolness), and dammit, you don't want those giggly drunk blonde cheerleader types to be dancing around the dancefloor to *your* favorite Front 242 song, because they have no idea what's like to be in the pit with a bunch of guys twice your size dancing to it; you don't want to see them dressing the way you've dressed for years, except with expensive labels instead of thrift store and offbrand tags, all cutesyfied and pop art and made for mass consumption.

So, you know, I totally get the urge to curl up like a little rolypoly and say, You shall not pass to the youtubers and the feral fans who arrive in ... slightly larger numbers every time an article appears in a mainstream source. There is the natural prickliness of outsiders who've carved themselves a niche and don't want it to be overrun by the people who'd made us outcasts in the first place, because if they come and take over our clubhouse, where the hell are we supposed to go? Pushing out always towards the fringes, trying to stay ahead, so slash (for people who'd never been into it before), so chan, so RPF, etc. old boundaries dropping left and right for people trying to hold onto the space we made.

So we exclude them or make them pass tests ("Speak friend and enter" to continue with the geeky little LotR theme I seem to have going here), learn the unwritten rules, or they go and start their own subculture and intermingle and five years down the line most people forget there ever was a division.

I... am not sure where I'm going with this, or that I had a point to it at all, except to say, it's gonna happen. It's gonna keep happening. The internet makes Fandom more accessible and more visible every single day, and more and more people are going to discover it through sources new and unknown and not the old way.

Some Comments


I was a punker in 1989, so I get *exactly* what you're talking about. That's why, for the most part, I keep my eyes open and my mouth shut when it comes to fandom things, because I'm trying my damndest to tread lightly until I have the hang of all the secret handshakes.

It's the people who don't have respect for the fact that they're coming into an already established community, that blithely ignore all that has come before, that make it ugly.
[musesfool]:'s not necessarily the people who don't know the rules (how could they, after all?) it's that if someone tries to explain the rules, they ignore them in favor of what they want instead.
[medie]: oh that's the worst part of it for me. I've run into it now a couple times in Supernatural and SGA, try to point out that fandom does something a certain way because it's polite and it makes things easier and I can practically quote the "but why? There's no law that says I *HAVE* to." Lots of gritting of teeth involved there *G*
[musesfool]: Yeah. Some people just have outsize senses of entitlement, and they don't really care about whatever fannish community actually exists, they just want what they want when they want it.
[minim calibre]:

Oh, the change is absolutely already starting. (Sometimes, I feel like the shift fandom is in now is reflected in that list/usenet to LJ shift, but I suspect that's just because the shift blurred *my* fannish lines with my personal ones.)

I'm really torn about how I feel. There's the hedgehog instinct, but it's warring with a huge sigh of relief at the notion of my passions not seeming quite as weird as they might have 5-10 years ago.

It seems like every time I turn around I want to tell those damn kids to get off the lawn. Every month, every week, every *day* there's a new bunch from god-knows-where doing god-knows-what and... I'm getting used to them hanging around.

When the TWoPers came and did Smallville fandom *their* way it was frustrating, but some of 'em turned out to be not so bad. I bitched and moaned about the popslashers and lo, I came to RPS and, for the first time in ten years, became a writer myself. (Don't even get me started on writer status vs. art/site management/etc. I'm really not bitter any more. No. Really.)

But yanno, fandom existed before you and I ever heard of Usenet, and our foremothers walked for miles in the snow - uphill! both ways! - to post their letter zines. And they prolly wanted to chase us off the lawn back when we arrived, too.

We cannot stop it. We can't even hope to contain it. All we can do is hang on for the ride. Great post.

But yanno, fandom existed before you and I ever heard of Usenet, and our foremothers walked for miles in the snow - uphill! both ways! - to post their letter zines. And they prolly wanted to chase us off the lawn back when we arrived, too.


Of course, as both gkingsley and cathexys point out, there is always going to be friction with new people who don't know the rules and the types who don't bother to try to learn them, but barge in and put their feet up on the furniture and demand to be catered to. And it seems like the feral types are more and more often of that nature. Or possibly I am as much of an old fogey as anyone else.

But yeah, it's happening, and it can't be stopped. Now it's just a question of trying to minimize the damage.

When the TWoPers came and did Smallville fandom *their* way it was frustrating, but some of 'em turned out to be not so bad.

I would love for you to elaborate on this! The Smallville TWoP forums were my introduction to fandom and as I recall it was for a lot of others, too, so the energy ran very, very high for awhile. I'm just curious if it's that...excitability that you're referring to, or if there were major faux pas I'm not aware of. Or possibly you're just referring to the old wanks that shook things up for awhile?

Y'all were like an excitable litter of puppies all turned up to 11, some of you secure in the knowledge that you had absolutely invented this fandom thing, never realizing that hey! The old-guard of net based fans were already on SV like corn in Kansas the moment it aired. And that we'd been doing this with television shows for decades.

Wank is endemic to fandom - always has been, always will be. But suddenly, the convergence of the new exuberance and sheer numbers of newbies amplified it by a factor of ten. It was exhausting.

But as I said, some great people came out of it. It was just a wild ride for a bit there.

The thing that bugs me is not that people are coming...heck, beyond the i'm not cool any more that you beautifully captured in your music analogy, there's really a lot of good there. My problem is that there's often a sense of entitlement, maybe a lack of other words, I'm a latecomer just like most of us in the sense that I wouldn't have found fandom if it hadn't already been present online in the late nineties.

I spent a long time learning rules, b/c it seems only polite to me. Thing is, when we consider ourselves a community but those coming in don't (i.e., neither consider themselves part of it nor even consider us a community at all...), then there's a problem... That's what the issue is for me at least (i.e., treating a vid like any visual document to be forwarded, without even realizing or caring what legal effects it might have on the creator etc.)

No, I get that. I agree. When I started out, I lurked for months before I posted, and I remember when I sent my first feedback via email, I was always, "Hi, you don't know me, I hope this isn't weird" because I didn't know if that was acceptable behavior.

But I think we're just going to have to batten down the hatches for an adjustment period, or try to figure out some kind of buffer zone, or perhaps it'll be like other 'feral' fandoms, and folks will end up not in our neighborhoods until the Next Big Fannish Source comes along, and then there will be a clash, like when HP people moved into other fandoms etc. after thinking they'd invented the whole shebang (and not always happy to learn otherwise) and eventually it will sort itself out. But now that we've seen it happen a few times, maybe we'll know it's coming.

Because while I think mentoring newbies is great, I don't think it'll happen much.
[semielliptical]: Excellent post! I completely agree that the greater visibility is hard and has drawbacks, but it is also inevitable and comes with some benefits. I like to believe that some wonderful people will learn about fandom who would have never found us otherwise, and they will become participants and their lives and fandom will be better for it.

I agree about the emphasis on writers in fandom and it always annoys me, even though I'm primarily a writer myself. Maybe because I am one of those writers who doesn't have much time to read fic (and I remember how much more time I had for reading before I started writing), so to me it's obvious that readers are essential, maybe even especially readers who aren't writers as well.

Plus...the emphasis on "everyone should write fic" means that people who really shouldn't write, who can't write, who have no interest in getting better, are churning out crap simply because they feel they have to in order to be part of the community. I don't think that's doing anyone any favors.

Was in a conversation with some other Who fen a few days back in which I noted that the current sitch with DW is almost exactly like what happened in X-Men fandom when the first movie came out -- the newbies who sometimes wanted to dive into forty years of contradictory oft-ridiculous canon backstory but more frequently didn't, and the old schoolers who were sometimes appreciating the new onscreen stuff and sometimes just appalled at what had been done to their old canon or at the hordes of incoming fans.

And this is why I love LJ, that I could just friend a few Who fen who liked the new stuff (some old-time fans and some just playing the backstory catch-up game like I am) and lure a few already-friends into my new fandom with me, and thereby get the news and gossip without personally having to deal with the most obnoxious of the new fen or aggressively territorial of the old ones.

Every now and then I feel a little bit 'you don't get it' about some comments because I discovered on my own when it was good. I started in fandom before it was on LJ, and I've had my LJ longer than a lot of my f'list. And I came to it via fandom, not the other way around.

You've also made me remember my music history. I started listening to TripleJ, the youth station on the public broadcaster, because the coolest person I know said I should. And it doesn't have ads. My friends don't listen to it, and my mother doesn't like it. It's reminded me that I'm not as mainstream or conservative in real life as I sometimes think.

There's a bit of wank in the House fandom at the moment. I think a little bit is that the new season has brought new fans, and the old fans can says 'I remember season one, that was better,' and 'fandom was better with season one.' There's a sense of nostalgia, and that can become dangerous. So can a holding to tradition that's out of date. And so can not learning the rules and social mores.

It's a terrifically interesting thing to think about.

... Hmm. very interesting about pushing the boundaries. I seem to do that instinctively. I don't know what I'd do if throngs of giggly fangirls (and fanboys) suddenly started rallying around "my" pet semi-crackships that have teensy, tiny followings at present (not by my doing, more by coincidence). Probably throw up my hands in frustration. I get bored when things go mainstream - or maybe, deep down, it's a fear of competition, and my inability to pull people around me like a BNF. I'm not awful, I don't think, but I don't have that natural charisma. And in a way, I'd rather be a high member of the Parliament in an itty bitty country than one of the masses of a big one.

Maybe there's a bit of that in others, too. Or maybe not, but that's what came to me. It's not so much "don't touch" but "come in, play, but don't forget who built this playground with somebody else's design and scrap lumber I saw in the garbage heap and tools borrowed from my daddy."

I love new members, and I'm not a longtime member myself in my fandom, but there's a little wary part. I'm fighting hard to make a small name for myself and it's easier to do that when you kinda stand out - good, bad, neutral. When everybody's like you, the competition is a lot stiffer and it's easier to get lost in the shuffle. And that's what might be underlying a lot of the sentiment: fear of being thrust back into anonymity, either after a long history of being Somebody, or just beginning to break out, or anywhere in between.

The whole youtube thing strikes me as a replay of what happened to literary SF fandom in the 70s, when media fandom--especially Star Wars--suddenly made science fiction cool and accessible to the masses. (Yeah, there'd been grumbling about Star Trek, but it was Star Wars that really broke down the barriers.) There was a lot of screaming and kicking and wailing that fandom had gone to hell in a handbasket what with the invasion of all these kids with lightsabers and squeeing fangirls (Aaaaah! GIRL COOTIES all over my clean shiny rocket ships!)

Somehow, we all survived.
[ninamalfoy]: People - most, if not all of them, are newbies, though - comment on these fics and thus, encourage these bad!ficcers to continue the spiral downwards with more bad, more generic, more boring fic. Whereas, in the early (golden *g*) days of the fandom, people just didn't comment on bad fic and thus you knew - in a rather harsh way but nicer than if you'd gotten a well-deserved flaming comment - that you sucked at writing and that you should step back and try to better yourself until you post anything else. But now? No.

I can identify with that sense of ownership and cult-exclusiveness in Fandom itself (capital F). I welcome new people into Fandom, always, but I still very much feel that it's an "Us not them" place, and you can only join if you put in the effort to actually be Us (Us being ever-changing, but the change IS the contribution sometimes). If you're not, it's awkward. Like... my brother and his friends download anime vids (AMVs) to loud rock metal songs, stuff like System of a Down and Disturbed. They don't care about content. They don't care about quality in timing and thematic continuity and song-to-clip choice and characterization and relevance and visual style. They're not in it for the vids (a corner of fandom where I'm a consumer/lurker not a producer, mostly because I can't get the damned software to work for me), they're in it for the flash colors that accompany their favorite music. So I'll write 20-vid long rec lists of quality vids, and he can't tell the difference between those and the vids he glimpses on youtube that have bad timing, subtitles, and overused/stupid song choice. That bugs me. Because he's not IN the Fandom, he's just a tourist. A tourist who doesn't even want to know the names of the buildings he's taking pictures of. I've tried converting him to Fandom, tried to bring him into the culture that I enjoy Fandom to be, but all he wants are the flashy pictures set to music.

I'm not protective of the exclusivity of content, but I'm protective of the exclusivity of Fandom culture. I feel like saying "Look, you can join in if you want, and we'd love to have you, but if you're just going to point and stare, don't bother, okay? Come back when you actually want in."
[fyrdrakken]: [I] forgot to mention that one of the posts I've read on this situation (can't recall if it was one of the ones you linked to above or not) pointed out that a major issue here is in regard to the incoming fans rate being higher than the pre-existing fan population can handle in terms of indoctrinating them to fannish norms and etiquette. (Which I think is probably as good an explanation as any for why certain fandoms develop such diverging expectations of acceptable behavior *coughplagiarisminHPcough* if the fandom developed or expanded with a bang and the new-to-fandom greatly outnumbered the oldtimers or the only-new-to-this-fandom.)

Anyhow, I do really see your point about the weirdness when the indie stuff you love becomes mainstream.

But I sorta always wanted my unknown-in-the-US stuff to become mainstream. I thrilled when Prefab Sprout had a top 10 hit in the UK because I hoped it would translate to success in the US but as it turned out, the only person I ever met before the internet who also liked prefab sprout was lyle menendez (don't ask unless you want a long story). And when I did a radio show in 87/88, I played REM and Curiosity Killed the Cat and Everything But the Girl in hopes of random people switching dials would hear them and listen and Be Transformed By The Wonderful Music. So I guess my Mainstreaming Of Fandom Doesn't Bother Me Much At This Point attitude stems from that? Or am I trying to stretch the parallel?

Of course, I spent a bit of time today reading about "fandom norms" and how I seem to have violated them, but that's a long story for another day. [1]


  1. ^ heidi8 may be referring to posts regarding The Cassandra Claire Plagiarism Debate