Nothing new under the sun

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Title: nothing new under the sun
Creator: musesfool
Date(s): September 9, 2003
Medium: LiveJournal post
Fandom:
Topic: meta
External Links: nothing new under the sun; nothing new under the sun - frail and bedazzled (archive link),
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nothing new under the sun is a 2003 essay by musesfool.

Topics Discussed

An Excerpt

I see people talking about the proliferation of meta in fandom, and also about how uncivility seems rampant etc. and it's not like the old days or whatever, and I just... it doesn't seem any different to me.

I think what's different is the medium. The people talking about this stuff are doing it on LiveJournal, which is a multi-fandom environment where people from all sorts of fandoms are rubbing up against each other (and don't make me have to hose you down over there! I'm looking at you, apocalypsos and your flist shagging), and people whose first real exposure to fandom was LJ and people whose first exposure goes back to cons in the 1970s and...

It's not that the behaviors have changed so much - not that I can see, with my measly almost six years of online fannishness - it's that they're more visible.

Used to be, you were a Buffy fan, you stayed on atbvs/ata and whatever mailing lists catered to your particular Bverse needs. Same with XF or Homicide or comics or whatever. There were flamewars. There was meta. There were the big Summer Rerun Hell doldrums, where the group chewed itself up and spit itself out. Xander's Lie and The Mahoney Shoot are the two big ones from my usenet time, and I'm sure some people out there have XF or ER or whatever stories of big arguments that spawned flamewars and that to this day people will argue one way or another if you mention them.

But if you were in XF and not Buffy, or only on the fringe of Buffy, you wouldn't know. God knows, I've heard about XF flamewars and how contentious it was but that's in later days. Back then, I didn't know. I wasn't involved, and if you were on a Buffy list or the newsgroup, you didn't do a lot of OT posting (though I have to say, ath was always friendly to OT posting, as long as it was interesting and intelligent. It was also filled with humorless sociopaths. *snerk*) so who the hell knew what was going on on the Trek side or the XF side, unless you were already in the fandom?

Multi-fandom lists like glass_onion started the change, and with blogging, and especially Livejournal, it just swelled.

In our own LJs, no one is confined to one topic. I can jump from Buffy to West Wing to Smallville to meta to the New York football Giants and no one can smack me down for being off topic.

So all the little petty squabbles and such are now out in the open (unless, of course, they're friendslocked, but I've found that most such squabbles, if they're really nasty, generally spill over into public view). So all that shit that people complained about privately and thought, "Oh, I bet they don't do this in Fandom X"? It's now revealed that, hell yeah, they do it in Fandom X, and Fandom Y and Z and A and B etc. and in some cases, it's a lot nastier than Fandom W, where you spend most of your time.

So (and how many sentences can I start with the word "So"?) it's not that Fandom itself has changed so much (though it has - yes, there are a lot of newer fans who don't understand the unspoken rules of Fandom, and since they're *unspoken*, how *could* they? I mean, some people are intuitive. Some people are intelligent. Some people realize that bringing your quasi-legal pornographic activities to the attention of the PTB ain't the brightest thing you could ever do. On the other hand, some people are dumb as a box of rocks and will never pick up on that unless someone tells them, "newsflash, braintrust - that ain't a great idea." Only, you know, nicer than that. There's a reason I'm not on the fandom welcome wagon.), it's just that all the stuff that used to go on on private lists and in chats is now hanging out in the open.

There have always been divas and there have always been cliques and the 'why slash?' argument is at least as old as Trek and the 'why fanfic?' discussion is older than dirt and good god, it's not like we're reinventing the wheel with discussing the reasons one may or may not choose to write in present tense or third person or whatever. As long as there have been people writing fiction (or telling stories, so I'm saying, when man crawled from the primordial ooze and told his kids about it, one of 'em was rolling their eyes going, "But *dad*, that story's so *lame*"), there have been people criticizing them, and there have been people telling the critics to shut up, they're stifling creativity. And so on.

And damn, I can ramble when you get me started. Don't do that!

So to sum up, *I* don't think there's a been real huge change in the actual behavior of fans. I think the behavior is just more *visible* now than it was before, and in the case of meta and such (like this hellaciously long post that I'm not cut-tagging), such discussions are easier to find because there are communities set up to point 'em out.

Excerpts from the Comments

[seemag]: *I* don't think there's a been real huge change in the actual behavior of fans. I think the behavior is just more *visible* now than it was before...

Amen. Yes. Not much we can do about it, and at the risk of sounding really, really BOFQ, I'm just not sure fandom civility really matters to me. That's the great thing about the Internet -- don't like something/someone, I just ignore them (as long as they let me ignore them ::grin::).

I said similar things about fandom kerfuffles over in my LJ spilling over. There's a whole lot more of butting heads these days than there were even 3-4 years ago. Back in '96-97 when I was first getting online, I didn't know anyone who wasn't Trek; now I know people from Alias to X-Men, and it's not because I became more social, it's just the venues in which fannish things are conducted became easier to become a part of, not to mention more widespead. Stupidity/insolence/insults probably reigned supreme since the Internet's inception -- we're just way more aware of it now.

[musesfool]:Stupidity/insolence/insults probably reigned supreme since the Internet's inception -- we're just way more aware of it now.

since the Internet's inception? Since the inception of people, I'd say. People are contentious. It's just that the internet allows us to feel like the people on the other side of the screen don't really exist, or we're not really hurting anybody with our nastiness, and since there's no Fandom Police or anything, there's no way to *make* people behave, short of modding, banning and reporting to their ISPs should things get that out of hand.

Mentoring is a good idea in theory, but in practice, I don't see it working, not with the way fandom is so easily accessible, and so few people are actually good at it.
[marag]:I don't think there's been a change in behavior in fandom. I think it was full of incivility years ago, and it remains full of bad behavior today ::snerk::.

I'm wondering what we can do to educate those people who *can* be educated and isolate those who can't.

[seemag]:I'm wondering what we can do to educate those people who *can* be educated and isolate those who can't. More mailing lists? ;-)
[musesfool]: I'm wondering what we can do to educate those people who *can* be educated and isolate those who can't.

well, a return to the old, blunt, "Read the FAQ" is never a bad idea, nor is modding people on lists until they've shown they can be trusted to post responsibly. Stuff like the ccfp will show that criticism isn't meant to wound or terrorize, but can be done constructively, politely and with the intent to help.

As for the bad seeds, let them congregate with each other - eventually they'll turn on each other and give us all a show.
[bethbethbeth]: There've been quite a number of "No way, man! It's always been like this!" discussions since the first of [this round] of Meta-Meta chit chat started, but your post is one of the best summing-ups (summings-up? summaries? thingies?) I've seen (...although I have to say that all this 'new' visibility is just new for media fandom; meta and squabbles and stupidity, oh my, has been a public part of regular old SF/F fandom forever).
[jerel]:I think you're right. There have always been squabbles. However, I think incivility seems to have grown is because fandoms have grown and overlapped. The disagreement gets spread over several forums, instead of being confined to one newsgroup and/or the one list everyone in the fandom uses.
[musesfool]:Now a disagreement can overflow from a mailing list onto LJ and then everyone not on the original list gets involved and starts talking about it and so it seems like a big huge thing. And truth is the first casualty in such an argument, so no one really knows who started what or what really happened (except the people who were there when it did) and so people start sniping at each other based on hearsay and then their friends join in and... boom! Everybody's pissed off.
[thebratqueen]:Yeah, I have to admit for me now half the fun of fandom is watching people go off on these pearl-clutching, sad shaking of the head style discussions about how fandom just ain't what it used to be. Esp when you find out they haven't been in fandom that long. Hell I've been in fandom for about 10 years, give or take, and even I know I haven't seen the full history of every squabble out there.

It kind of reminds me of people who go around saying how the world is so much more full of war/disease/whatever these days than it used to be. Huh. Really? You mean moreso than, say, WWII? Crusades? Influenza Epidemic? Black Death? Interesting.

I have to admit, though, I'm biting my tongue a bit on the post I know you're talking about, simply because however okay the rest of the post was, for what it was, I can't help but roll my eyes at the self-invoking of Godwin's Law that comes at the end of it.
[musesfool]:I always find it amusing in a really sarky way when people compare fandom to nazis. It's just like, shut up and get over yourselves. No one is oppressing you! You can pick up your toys and go home and no one is going to stop you or throw you in jail. It's the fucking Internet. No one *can* oppress you unless you let them. Gah.
[thedivinegoat]:Ah! The Youth of Today!

It's pretty similar to the old "the youth today are far more rude/arrogant/badly dressed/ignorant than in my day" rant that is as old as civilization.

Just as memories are unconciously re-edited altering our perception of past events, so too our perception of current happenings is affected by the medium through which we percieve them, and what is happening in the world currently around us.

"Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers." - Socrates (469 BC - 399 BC)
[musesfool]:We edit and alter our memories so we cast ourselves in the best light and people we don't like in more unflattering terms. And sometimes we forget how painful certain things were, either because something good came out of it, or it's just long enough ago to have become fuzzy.

Of course, the fact that a lot of this fandomtwit behavior is perpetrated by younger people is interesting, because *everything* is a great big drama to a lot of teenagers. I was a big old drama queen as a 17yo, and I wasn't even close to being the most dramatic/spotlight hogging kid I knew. So there's some of that intensity involved, plus the way a lot of younger people aren't as used to criticism and so take it as a personal attack, because it's happening to them on what they perceive as their own turf (either a list or their own LJ), i.e., fandom, where they don't expect to be graded and made to measure up to some standard as they are{should be) in school.

And people who aren't teenagers often adopt that same "It's just fanfic/fandom/my hobby. I don't have to be polite/correct. It's all in good fun."

Those people should be summarily slapped with a large trout.

But I, alas, am not yet Queen of Fandom. Someday, though... *eg*
[acadine]:Word. In so many, different ways.

You know, I've been online much longer than I've been in fandom, unless you want to count various forms of online social-grouping (LUG mailing lists, various Usenet newsgroups (a.s.r., anyone?), RPG mailing lists, MUDs, MUSHes, etc) as being "fandoms". I was ten when my dad first got a dial-up SLIP connection through work, although I didn't really start hanging out online lots and lots until I was about thirteen or fourteen - so either fourteen years or ten, depending on how you look at it.

Ever since I came online, people have been bitching about "the good old days" and "how much worse things are now".

Everywhere. In every single forum or circumstance you could imagine. People on MUSHes bitch about how crappy the RP is these days. People on Usenet bitch about all the spam and the clueless posters. People on geek mailing lists bitch about... well, geek flamewars and bitchfests are nigh-incomprehensible to outsiders, but I have seen "so many morons now!" style flamefests on NANOG many a time.

I don't think it has anything to do with any changes in behaviour or even visibility. I think it has to do with human nature. When you first join something, it is shiny and new and spiffy, and you are not yet jaded and weary of all the things that the "oldbies" have seen a zillion times. You are enthusiastic and happy, and you bounce along doing [fandom-like activity] full of boundless joy and exuberance.

Eventually, you see the bad side, and your joy and exuberance turns into bitter old crankdom. You start to bitch, not realizing that you were effectively wearing blinders of rainbow-colored squee in the "good old days", and in fact are wearing blinders of smokey, jaded old-school ennui or burnout now.

Life goes on, the wheel turns, and the next generation of boundlessly enthusiastic new kids who "don't understand the unspoken rules of Fandom" show up, and eventually, the rules that they formulate for themselves become "the unspoken rules of Fandom".

Case in point: RPS.

But. As I said. Wordy word word.
[musesfool]:I've been online much longer than I've been in fandom, unless you want to count various forms of online social-grouping (LUG mailing lists, various Usenet newsgroups (a.s.r., anyone?), RPG mailing lists, MUDs, MUSHes, etc) as being "fandoms".

Ah, well, I'm the person who includes sports fannishness in my definition of 'fandom' so.... *g*

I think we can broaden it to include any group of people who are vocally passionate and obsessed focused on a particular activity (knitting. There have been kerfuffles in *knitting* communities on LJ. I don't even want to imagine what chefs or chess players are like when they get together. *g*) or media property (including, for these purposes not only movies/books/shows but also bands/actors/athletes/politicians/celebrities who are only famous for being famous) or team, but I am not the one who makes these definitions.

Ever since I came online, people have been bitching about "the good old days" and "how much worse things are now".

Yes. And as TBQ said, people are saying it about the world-at-large. As if the wars/famines/diseases we have now are the worst thing ever. Look, I'm not looking to minimize anybody's suffering, but there's always been war/famine/disease, and we at least have conditions in the first world that are a million times better than they were even a hundred years ago, public health and safety-wise. Which is neither here nor there, but lawlessness and violence etc. have always been around and always will be. Sometimes there's more. Sometimes there's less.

Expecting some sort of utopia on the internet, which is a text-only medium ripe for misinterpretation, amongst a bunch of people who consider themselves artists (already among the most thin-skinned types out there) is just *insane*.

I don't think it has anything to do with any changes in behaviour or even visibility. I think it has to do with human nature. When you first join something, it is shiny and new and spiffy, and you are not yet jaded and weary of all the things that the "oldbies" have seen a zillion times. You are enthusiastic and happy, and you bounce along doing [fandom-like activity] full of boundless joy and exuberance.

Eventually, you see the bad side, and your joy and exuberance turns into bitter old crankdom. You start to bitch, not realizing that you were effectively wearing blinders of rainbow-colored squee in the "good old days", and in fact are wearing blinders of smokey, jaded old-school ennui or burnout now.

I think this is definitely a factor. Absolutely. But I think the sheer multi-fandomness of LJ and the fact that it's so easy now to get SV, HP, OC, SG-1, XMM, AtS etc. all in one spot means that people who may have only dealt with one or two flamewars every few months are now seeing - and getting involved in - kerfuffles that spread like ripples in a pond from one LJ to the next, from one fandom to the next, in some cases. Or when someone's friends from another fandom come to the new fandom to stick up for their friend, etc. If that makes sense.

There's changes in perception as one 'ages' in fandom, and there's also been a sort of urban sprawl, so that there really is a lot more going on in public places and it's a lot easier to find than it was even five years ago.

References