OTW Guest Post: Naomi Jacobs

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Interviews by Fans
Title: OTW Guest Post: Naomi Jacobs
Interviewer: Claudia Rebaza
Interviewee: Naomi Jacobs
Date(s): August 15, 2017
Medium: online
External Links: OTW Guest Post: Naomi Jacobs; Wayback
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

OTW Guest Post: Naomi Jacobs is a 2019 interview done as part of a series. See OTW Guest Post.

Some Topics Discussed

Some Excerpts

How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?

My first experience of fandom was in 1995, when I was about 14, and came about because I noticed a sign in a local gift shop. It was advertising a painting demonstration by Clarecraft, a company that made figurines of the characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I’d had been reading these books avidly for a number of years, so of course went along.

The lovely lady I met that day was Isobel Pearson, who alongside her husband Bernard (known to Discworld fans as The Cunning Artificer) founded Clarecraft. She told me they were hosting a fan gathering in the summer at their headquarters in rural Suffolk, and encouraged me to come along. Attending that event was my introduction to Discworld fandom, and led to me attending (and eventually helping run) many conventions and events.

Around the same time, we got our first modem at home and I discovered the internet. I was also a big fan of The X-Files at the time, and found a forum where I made many friends, one of whom introduced me to the concept of fanfiction, and got me interested in the (at that time niche) fandom for Doctor Who. We’re still friends!

What drew your interest to Supernatural conventions?

I started watching Supernatural quite late into its run, and caught up over a couple of years without having any knowledge of or connection to its fandom. When I was up to date, I followed a recommendation to a particular work of fanfiction which turned out to have its own minor fan following, who mainly communicated through Twitter.

Through being in that group, I got a view into the wider Supernatural fandom, and in particular its conventions, which many of my new friends had attended or planned to in future. I discovered that the convention culture appeared quite different to that of the conventions I was used to. My experiences were mostly traditional science fiction and fantasy literature conventions (like the Discworld conventions) that are more focussed on fanworks and community rather than celebrity fandom.

The academic project I was working on at that time involved exploring what happens in ‘digital public space.’ This is a broad term which includes online gathering places which act as public communal spaces, and also physical public spaces that have digital aspects or augmentations. I noticed that the online discussion around Supernatural conventions was particularly active, and there was a strong culture of gathering and sharing content from the events.

Being part of the digital space during a convention seemed to be almost as important as being at the event, particularly because there were so many conventions each year and many people attend several, but very few could go to them all. Around the time I started thinking about gathering some data to look into this further, there arose a controversy because of some changes in the way that rules around recording content at the events were enforced. This gave me a very interesting avenue to do research as events unfolded.

How did you hear about the OTW] and what do you see its role as?

I was fairly active on LiveJournal around the time of the Strikethrough event, which was one of the things which (I now know) precipitated the formation of the OTW. However in my case I drifted away from that part of fandom for a while, being busy on convention organising committees and not participating in much of the transformative works side.

At some point in the next few years I must have become vaguely aware of the Archive of our Own, but didn’t really get back into reading fanfiction regularly until the aforementioned introduction to Supernatural, which was in 2015. Some of the friends I made through that interest were fan studies academics, who opened my eyes to the idea that I could combine my research and my fan interests, and directed me towards the journal Transformative Works and Cultures. Because I’m interested in online spaces, copyright and ownership, I read up on the development of the OTW and all the fantastic work that is done.

I see the OTW as critically important in defending the rights of fans, and protecting what is sometimes called the ‘gift economy’. This refers to the way that fans have always created and shared content simply for the love of it, with no expectation of getting anything in return except the enjoyment of the community, and the likelihood that others will similarly contribute their creations. In commercial online platforms, someone is usually trying to make money. This might cause conflict with people who want to use these platforms to build a community, if ways to make profit don’t match ways to help users. It’s quite common that the places that fans use to create, share and archive weren’t ever intended for that in the first place, and can change without warning in ways that are unexpected and seem counter to fans’ best interests. The OTW, as a non-profit organisation and host of non-commercial platforms, is an advocate for the more abstract value that fans and fan works bring; though that’s not to say there can’t sometimes be commercial value in fan works too!