Social Construct Theory Applied to Fandom: Why Both Negative and Positive Criticism of Fanfic is Vital to Our Community

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Title: Social Construct Theory Applied to Fandom: Why Both Negative and Positive Criticism of Fanfic is Vital to Our Community
Creator: viciouswishes
Date(s): August 2005
Medium: online
Fandom: focus on Buffy
External Links: Vicious Wishes' Fandom Corner -- Social Construct Theory Applied to Fandom: Why Both Negative and Positive Criticism of Fanfic is Vital to Our Community, Archived version
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Social Construct Theory Applied to Fandom: Why Both Negative and Positive Criticism of Fanfic is Vital to Our Community is an essay by visiouswishes.

"Social construct theory believes that inside every society is a discourse community - a community of knowledgeable peers who share common assumptions, goals, methods of communication, and conventions. In fandom, we have made a fully active discourse community."

For additional context, see Timeline of Concrit & Feedback Meta.


Fandom is by and large a community of writers, readers, and general aficionados of a tv show, movie, book, comic, etc. Through LiveJournal, we talk about everything from our favorite quote from said fandom to what adorable thing our cat did. We learned from each other through fandom osmosis, i.e. there's a reason I know the big spoiler for the latest Harry Potter book without having read it myself. And together, we have largely unwritten rules and a set language of our own. This sense of community and community standards makes both the reading and writing of fanfiction the perfect example for social construct writing theory and also why feedback, both positive and negative, is so vital for fandom's growth.
Recent wankage and civil discussion of feedback has led back to the unspoken rules of fandom. In Buffyverse fandom (and no doubt others), there has been a silencing of negative or even slightly less than glowing comments on fanfic. It has been said that criticism ruins the "fun" of fandom. But mostly people are afraid to say something that could be perceived as negative; even a comment as slight as "you changed tenses mid-sentence" is considered a personal attack on the author. Some are even afraid to make fanfic recs as he/she might be perceived as favoring one author over another. And as dodyskin (and a few others) have pointed out this is killing Buffyverse fandom. This is killing our discourse community, because there is no discourse.
Considering the gray, legal line that fanfic authors walk, authors who take every piece of criticism as a personal attack are taking too much credit for their work. Fanfic is already a derivative of a text created by another person(s), and most fanfic authors have read their fair share of fanfic and participated in the discourse community. How many Spike/Angel authors used "little one" in their fics after they read kita0610's fic? Personally, I know that I wouldn't even be writing Buffy/Gunn if twinkledru hadn't turned me on to the pairing. While many of us many sit by ourselves writing our fanfic, every piece of fanfic is a collaborative effort between the creators of the original text, our fandom forebears, our peers, our beta readers, and our readers. When we post fanfic publicly, whether it's to a journal or a web site, we open ourselves up to criticism (both positive and negative) from our discourse community and we formally acknowledge that we have a real and active audience. I once had a writing instructor who said that if we never showed our work to anyone, we might as well be masturbating. (I know critics of fanfic claim that fanfiction is the sound of one hand typing. But hey, let's communally masturbate; it's more fun anyway.) In the communal masturbation known as fanfic writing, we are still going through the same writing process used by every author. "The act of writing is accomplished through a process in which the writer images the audience, sets goals, develops ideas, produces notes, drafts, and a revised text, and edits to meet the audience's expectations" (National Council of Teachers of English). And even though many readers may have been silenced by public shaming, we readers sure do have opinions and will continue to have opinions.
Together, we created and are continuing to create a wonderful, vibrant discourse community where we share our thoughts, fanfic, meta, art, etc. about the texts which we are most passionate about. We all do this for free and for fun. No, it isn't fairy!Spike or physically impossible sex that's bringing Buffyverse fandom to an early grave; it's the lack of balanced communal discourse between the positives and the negatives. It's the inability to talk about fanfic, about ideas, without everything becoming personal. It's the idea that a particular author isn't mentally well enough, rich enough, physically able enough, etc. to receive a critical review of his/her fic. It's why when I ask a person if he/she is arguing that Buffy deserved to be almost raped in S6 that he/she suddenly thinks I'm calling him/her a rapist apologist or a misogynist instead of simply questioning the logic of the argument. Yes, the nature of LiveJournal brings us closer, brings our issues to the surface, makes us realize that everyone puts on his/her pants or trousers one leg at a time. But this shouldn't stop debate; instead it should make it more interesting. "Writing confers the power to grow personally and to effect change in the world" (National Council of Teachers of English). In the social construct of fanfic writing, we aren't going to grow or affect our corner of the 'verse if our discourse dies.