Old Fandom, New Fandom, and melodrama

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Title: Old Fandom, New Fandom, and melodrama
Creator: elspethdixon
Date(s): December 7, 2006
Medium: online
External Links: Old Fandom, New Fandom, and melodrama; Wayback link
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Old Fandom, New Fandom, and melodrama is a 2006 essay by elspethdixon.

Some Topics Discussed in the Essay and Comments

Excerpts from the Essay

From the grand Bitchy Old Fan wisdom generated by five years in fandom, with the aid of a friend who’s spent ten years in fandom, I present a slightly different categorising system.

First Wave Fandom: Fanfic what was in zines.

Second Wave Fandom: Fandom what was on mailing lists.

Third Wave Fandom: Fandom what is on livejournal.

These waves aren’t by any means mutually exclusive—zines and mailing lists are still around, as are many fans who got their starts in zines or listservs—but the way fanfic is shared and disseminated and the way people enter fandom has changed with each “new wave.”

Now, I’m about to go one about some fannish history that doesn’t always involve me, and start making sweeping generalisations, so be aware that I may be theorising with insufficient data.

Back in the days of zines, you had to be a seriously dedicated fan to even discover that fandom existed, let alone to write for it. And reader response was much slower and involved actual with-a-postage-stamp mail—and, due to the nature of zine publishing, long fics tended to be published in one piece, not serially. Zine fic, judging by the scads of old Starsky & Hutch and Real Ghostbusters fic I’ve read, leans heavily toward longer (30 pages or more) fics with either a classic slash first time plot, or an action gen plot (or an action plot and slash, something SH fic is particularly good at delivering). And hurt/comfort. I swear to God, every zine fic I’ve ever read that wasn’t a parody has involved some level of hurt/comfort. It’s glorious. And also All About The Character Squee, and the OTP, and the emotional gratification. People don’t go to the effort to produce and distribute a zine—much less shell out actual money for one—unless they’ve got a certain level of investment in the fandom, or in the kinks (like h/c) that first wave fandom catered to. And zine fandoms, as far as I can tell, seemed to have a very tightknit community, which only makes sense in a world where other fans need to know your physical mailing address.

With the advent of mailing lists [ETA: And newsgroups like alt.startrek.creative and that X-files one], fandom became more accessible, as well as faster (you can get feedback overnight, none of this Letter of Comment stuff!), and posting WIPs as they were being written became feasible—and hey, presto, reader response can begin actually shaping the creative process as a fic is being written (which I understand is what made some of the Sentinal smarm so over-the-top). Fandom also got a heavy influx of younger fans, since it was now online for free and you no longer had to travel to conventions and fork over cash to get fic. I’ve been on several mailing lists, and there were always several on-going “serial” fics being posted, again with scads of melodrama and action, if not always as much h/c as I could wish (except in Magnificent Seven Fandom. Mag7 has loads of h/c, lots of action-y gen plots, and is the best fandom on earth). And since many lists are character or pairing specific, there was also a heavy emphasis on OTPs and OTCs. Mailing lists and groups, as far as I am aware, are also the place where headers/labels were popularised. Zines have always had a certain level of content description, but I don’t remember seeing the sort of formal Title: Pairing: Warning: etc. format headers in older zines. And on a mailing list, which generally has a moderator, like most lj comms, there’s usually a set of rules one must conform to, or risk getting banned.

With lj, what fandom seems to me to have gained is connectedness — via friendslists and metafandom and fandonwank and a host of other multifandom forums, it’s now possible to be exposed to other people’s fandoms without going out and looking for them. There’s always been ties between various fandoms (multifandom conventions like MediaWest, multifandom zines put out in smaller fandoms, people who wrote for several tv shows…) but now it takes a lot less effort to be a fannish butterfly. When you subscribe to a yahoogroup, you aren’t always aware of what’s going on on other yahoogroups. Also, with speedy audience-response now an ingrained part of fandom, and with less effort involved in the posting/finding/reading of fic, shorter fics and ficlets have taken off.
What it’s lost, in some circles, is the sense of community that belonging to a mailing list — much less attending cons and knowing one another in person — can foster. There are people in fandom now who truly don’t view themselves as members of a community, and when they interact with people who do think of themselves as part of a fannish whole, misunderstandings occur (witness the debates over the need for warnings and pairing labels, with one side saying “but it’s only courteous, Ray,” and the other side saying “Fuck courtesy, Fraser. Let’s just kick them in the head.”). Also, I think there are a lot more of what I would call casual fans now; people who enjoy and appreciate fandom as a whole, but who may not have quite the same level of dedication to a particular fandom/set of characters that is needed in order to, say, write Man From Uncle fic for forty years after the show ended. People who are here more for the intellectual stimulation than the emotional gratification and squee (not that first and second wave fandom didn’t have intellectual fans, and not that there aren’t deeply emotionally invested third wave fans).
I’m somewhere between a second and a third-wave fan, but as a hard-core h/c junkie (I had a h/c kink as far back as elementary school, when I was a wee little girl who hadn’t even begun to care about slash or het or sex of any sort), I really like the type of fic first wave fandom seems to have so frequently produced. I love 300k h/c epics. I like action-y gen plots. I adore happy endings and emotional catharsis and melodrama. God I love melodrama, whether it’s Captain Blood or Tosca or Flamingo’sEclipse of the Heart.” Depressing, “realist” stuff like Kat Alison’sEnd of the Road,” or wacky, OOC SGA crackfic leaves me utterly cold, but characters dying in each other’s arms, Elizabeth kissing Jack and then chaining him to the Black Pearl’s mast, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp striding toward the OK Corral with their coats flapping in the wind, Enjolras and Grantaire dying on the barricades, Sawyer trekking through the jungle with a septic shoulder wound, Kate shouting that she loves Sawyer to save him from torture, Wesley and Buttercup’s final kiss, torture, fighting, fencing, escapes, True Love, miracles… that’s what my fannish squee is all about (actually, that’s what I not so secretly think all fiction should be about). I could care less about streamlined, post-modern, “underwritten” stuff, regardless of how clever it is. Unless it’s written by Neil Gaiman, I’m unlikely to read that sort of thing more than once. For me, fiction is all about emotional gratification, whether it’s fanfic or 19th century novels or movies or opera, and I have no shame about it. This, I understand, makes me something of an anomaly among newer, third wave fans.

Excerpts from the Comments


In between the zines and the mailing lists, there was usenet. From 1993-1996, I'd say, you'd have been almost guaranteed to find a newsgroup for your fandom--probably 2, one for discussion, one for fan fiction--but not necessarily a mailing list. Mailing lists were expensive propositions until 1996/1997--they required (a) owning a server and a pipe, (b) paying a ISP quite a bit of money for the list, or (c) being "in" at a university that had a server that provided free mailing lists. I remember some lists that existed pre-1997/1998 bouncing from server to server, searching for one that would continue to support them. Then came egroups.

Usenet had a different attitude than the mailing lists--they were more of a free-for-all, because you didn't have a list owner or server admin to answer to, especially in the alt.* hierarchy. Many people migrated to mailing lists when they became more widely available because they couldn't stand the attitude--the fact that there was no one in control--of usenet.
melannen: But what about message boards? All my pre-lj fandom and fic was through message boards, and nobody ever mentions them. And there are still some reasonably large fandoms where 90% of the community is interacting primarily on message boards (like MSR and TMNT, as far as I know.) Many of them moved there from usenet, I think, and nobody ever talks about usenet either! (The real answer is probably that those fandoms were never really part of the old slash tradition anyway...)

Usenet indeed! I must be a 1.5version fan, then because I remember coming in at - damn, right around the birth of internet fandom, with Usenet groups, and then the migration toward message boards. And then a year or two after that, in my experience, was when the mailing lists really took off.

I think those things were definitely part of the "tradition" - come on, recdotwhateverdotlotsofstartrekfic (not one of my fandoms at the time, so don't know exactly what the group is, but I know it had fic!) has *got* to be part of the old slash tradition...

I don't know, was alt.star-trek.creative particularly founded in pre-internet slash? I've always got the impression that the newsgroups were a) much less female and b) much less slashy, and also focused a lot more on the current shows - but I only knew the alt. heirarchy in its dying days, and never read much ST fic, so, somebody who was there knows far more than me!

TMNT and XF were largely "feral" when they started, though, at least as far as other things I've read and people I've talked to seemed to say...? Early USENET (and BBs) was mostly people who were already very computer-savvy, which was as much of a membership filter as it had, and I think a lot of the pre-net slashers stayed with print 'zines at least until the e-mail lists got going...? So my image is that you sort of had two fic cultures for awhile which (partly) re-converged in the late '90s with the Web, just about when what we think of as the modern 'net fic culture came together? This could all be completely wrong, though.

XF didn't have that much slash, because at first there wasn't that much to base slash on (and once we got some slashy characters, it somehow took about a year to really take off).

But, I recall a fair amount of FK slash being around online 1995ish.

As for being less female . . . maybe very early (pre endless September), but usenet fanfic fandom was probably at about 75% female by 1994/1995.

I don't actually know about Star Trek and slash, really; I know there was fic, 'cause I read some of it, but I was young and it was het (and from what I remember, I would venture to guess written by men). It surprises me to hear that there wasn't much of a slash presence, though; I would have expected it to find a decent corner to hide in somewhere.

I actually came into (online) fandom at an early age through the Anne Rice books, which had a thriving usenet group, predominantly slash-focused (this was around '94 or so). As I recall, there were archives (an archive) set up for fic, but most of the discussion took place on alt.books.anne-rice. Some of that shifted to a series of message boards in like, '95 or thereabouts, and eventually the usenet group shifted memberships and I think the whole thing went to mailing lists and archives until the C&D avalanche. Then again, Anne Rice fandom was at something of a remove from regular slash fandom - or at least that was my impression. I didn't learn that other people called them "fics" and not "specs" until I started reading X-Files slash in probably '96.

Which... I guess fits your model of a mostly "feral" online fandom, not particularly rooted in print 'zines. [smacks self] I am too tired to be allowed to type, much less formulate an argument.

History of a lurker, man; that's my early fannish story. Sigh.
mayatawi: Oh, this [post] is brilliant (and mostly coherent!). Thanks for putting the thought into this. I've been noticing that I feel less a "part" of my fandoms than I did back on mailing lists, but I never really thought about why. (I figured I was just maturing or some shit. Yeah, right.)
inalashl: Yes, yes! I started in fandom in 1994 on usenet, and I definitely see it as distinct from the mailing list wave.

Here from metafandom. See? The interconnectedness works.

I'm second wave, having arrived in the fanfic community at the beginning of 2002. I remember a couple of years later going to a slash con where there was a panel about LiveJournal. I thought, "Oh, so that's why all the lists have gone quiet."

One other difference between second wave and third wave (I can't speak to what was happening during the first wave or the Usenet era) is the rise of original slash. When I first arrived at the slash lists, I thought I was the only original fiction writer in the fan fiction world. (Obviously I hadn't yet found FanFiction.net.) It took me a lot of digging to find the other original fiction writers on the slash lists; in fact, I was only able to find one active list where original slash writers predominated.

But that year and the following year were when original slash writers began to become visible in the slash world, at least while I've been around. I was talking to a yaoi author this week, and she confirmed my impression that, as of 2001, when she started an original slash and original yaoi recs site, most of the original fiction activity was taking place in the yaoi community rather than the slash community.

I'd be interested to hear the impressions of other folks here about the history of the presence of original fiction writers in the slash community.

I am definitely a First Waver, finding fandom in 1981, and finding (in order) gen, het and slash zines by the end of 1982. The hub of fandom, for me at that time, was the local Star Trek club, and by extension the various ST club newletters. From those newsletters I found the early stages of Blake's 7 fandom and then The Professionals fandom. Each new connection was increasingly slash-orientated.

I'd have to agree that, with zines having to be purchased either at Cons, at meetings or via newsletters, the sense of community was much stronger than I sense it to be on lj, especially the sense of community within the early slash circles. The zine presses for each major fandom knew each other, there was a great deal of cross-pollination at Cons, and fans often moved within each fandom, and into new fandoms, together.

I would definitely have to agree with melannan on the perception of First Wave and Second Wave fandom existing in some ways parallel to each other until the advent of the Third Wave. That was exactly my experience. I firmly hung on to zine fandom well into the 1990's, only entering online fandom with the archives for X-Files and Highlander (7th Dimension, The Basement, Rat B etc). I did not take B7, Trek or The Professionals online with me.

So I would be very interested to see how many other First Wavers had that experience. How many didn't follow their first loves online, but found love anew, so to speak.

Here via metafandom

True Love, miracles… that’s what my fannish squee is all about (actually, that’s what I not so secretly think all fiction should be about). I could care less about streamlined, post-modern, “underwritten” stuff, regardless of how clever it is. Unless it’s written by Neil Gaiman, I’m unlikely to read that sort of thing more than once. For me, fiction is all about emotional gratification, whether it’s fanfic or 19th century novels or movies or opera, and I have no shame about it. This, I understand, makes me something of an anomaly among newer, third wave fans.

*Waves to a fellow third wave anomaly*

I do so agree with everything you say above, I really do. It's spot on, fiction (be it fan or otherwise) is indeed about emotional gratification, and I too don't care for cleverness and 'underwritten' stuff. I love, love.

Strictly speaking I'm somewhere between the three waves, as although I got into fandom via wave 2, I instantly became a zine person, and it wasn't until relatively recently that I started reading on-line stuff and indeed writing for anything other than zines. And I always swore I'd never put my stuff on the Net or get a LJ, but now . . . Well I have my own web-site and own three LJ Comms, hmmmmm.

So from one anomaly to another - thank you for this post.