O Big Brother, Where Are Thou? Um, actually, right over here. In the Fanfic section

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Title: O Big Brother, Where Are Thou? Um, actually, right over here. In the Fanfic section
Creator: Joanne Madge
Date(s): Fall 2001
Medium: print
Topic: ratings and warnings for fanfic
External Links: Tarriel Cell v.15 n.1, Archived version
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O Big Brother, Where Are Thou? Um, actually, right over here. In the Fanfic section is an article by Joanne Madge. It was printed in 2001 in Tarriel Cell.

first page

The subject was warnings and ratings for fanfic.


I admit I didn't notice it at first. You don't when you're surfing around, looking for good fanfic to gobble up... you don't pay attention to the way things are listed on archives. But you should. Here's why.

This story is rated "PG-13." Well, that doesn't sound so very bad. How about this one:

This story is rated "Adults Over 18 only." Ooooh, naught bits! Let me bookmark that one... Sure, but that's just to keep the kiddo population from reading the naughty bits, what's wrong with that? Impressionable minds... we should protect them, right?

This novel contains graphic violence, sex, and adult content. It may not be sold to anyone under the age of 18. Remember, buy a minor a book, go to jail!

Your local Barnes & Noble now has a little sign at the counter that says "We Card." The spine no longer reads "Horror" -- or in [ Stephen King 's] case, "Novel"... it reads:

"NC-17." Or "Rated X." It comes with a big yellow warning Parental Advisory label sticking the covers together. Maybe it has a brown paper wrapper over it, too. Sanitized For Your Protection."

Feeling a little ill yet? Wait, there's more. Here are some more potential consequences of this little fanfic-originated fad...

Never mind that prose is SUPPOSED to offend. It's supposed to stretch the boundaries of people's expectations, teach undiscovered viewpoints, maybe drag you kicking and screaming into an understanding of why what you thought was bad wasn't so bad after all -- or worse than you thought. To Kill a Mocking Bird? The Diary of Anne Frank? Lights in the darkness, both, but let's try something farther out on the edge. Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye has been criticized for its graphic depictions of child rape... yet that experience is like descending into a crucible and back out again. It purifies. It makes us understand and rage against injustice. It makes us understand, love and loathe the monster inside. Would it be right to warn off readers? To say, "If you're not in the mood to read about this horrible thing, you should take a pass [on] this book?"

Hell, yes, it would be A-OK in fanfic, because fanfic readers are apparently more delicate in their sensibilities than readers of general fiction. Nor are they interested -- according to the archivists -- in taking a chance on anything that doesn't fit in their particular niche. "I only read PG-13 fan fiction without slash elements, and only if it has the character of Richie from Highlander in it, only that's pre-Season Five Richie..."

Whatever, people.

So... now be honest, just for a minute ... how old were you when you read your first "adult" fiction? Maybe it was a book your parents didn't want you to have (mine sure didn't). Maybe it was one of those grubby Penthouse Letters things. Maybe it was just a sexual interlude in an otherwise inoffensive book that you ran across by accident.

Now ... remember, we're being honest... didn't you LOVE it? Didn't it intrigue you and make you go all squidgy inside? Didn't you keep it and reread it, maybe OFTEN? Confess, o closet readers of questionable fiction, don't you STILL love the naughty bits when you come across them?

Wow, and look how YOU turned out. Ruined you for life, eh? Hope you didn't have the bad taste to become a parent yourself - look what kind of heritage you're already passing along to your kids ...

But I could get sued!

New flash, mighty fanfic writer you could get sued if you NEVER put a bad thing in your stories. Remember that pesky copyright law thang? (If not buy previous issues of this worthy publication.) If you really worry about lawsuits, heck. QUIT WRITING FANFIC!

But you're worried about the oogie-boogie Internet pornography laws, cause you're not rich enough to house your web site out of Sweden like the ones offering live sex shows. You figure. "I'm here, I'm vulnerable ..." so it's better safe than sorry.

Better safe than sorry got us Prohibition, it got us the Hayes Office, it got us the Comics Code. Buck up. folks. If you feel you need to say, "This story contains adult content," then do it, but don't RATE it. As a writer in the U.S.. you have a constitutional right to write the story the way you want, and by God, people can read it. too. If it gets you put on a list somewhere, well, that's the price of free expression, in my opinion. What, you don't think I'm on somebody's list, after writing this? Dream on!

Your voluntary "NC-17" rating on your latest Pretender opus can lead us to the Stephen King advisory I demoed earlier. It can take away your right, ultimately. to be challenged, edified, uplifted, and occasionally disappointed or repulsed. Why? Because it's a small step, if you're rating fanfic stories, you've already given up the battle... when you write an original story, why would you change your viewpoint? Nah ... if you're writing a squidgy story with sex and violence, why NOT rate it? You rated the Pretender fanfic, and it wasn't nearly as objectionable ...

Not to mention your reading public, who maybe grows up reading Internet fiction and then gets offended in their local Barnes & Noble SF section when they pull out The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin because there wasn't a by-God WARNING LABEL on that sucker. How dare someone not tell them what they were getting into?
Pass me the paperback and lighter fluid, Fred. It's getting chilly out here.