The Karma of Obsession

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Title: The Karma of Obsession
Creator: Patricia Kennealy-Morrison
Date(s): 1995
Medium: print, online
Topic: Jim Morrison, fanfiction, obsession
External Links: Patricia Kennealy-Morrison: The Karma of Obsession, Archived version
Patricia Kennealy-Morrison: The Karma of Obsession, Archived version
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The Karma of Obsession was an 1995 essay by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison first published in a zine called The Red Queen.

The essay criticizes fanfic and fanfic writers. It postulates that fanfic is thievery, fanfic writers wrench control away from the creators, and thus they are the literary equivalent of vampires. The essay received a mixed reception (see comments below the essay excerpts). However, it did provide an opportunity for one of the key players in the Marion Zimmer Bradley conflict to offer her version of events.

Patricia Kennealy-Morrison refers to herself as Jim Morrison's widow.


In her essay, Patricia begins by clearly establishing her credentials as a gatekeeper of Jim Morrison's memory, a man who she believes to be at risk of being appropriated by others for their own needs. The “fan as vampire” metaphor appears early on in the first paragraph and continues throughout the essay, something that will be a subject of reader commentary (see “reactions” below). Woven into the essay are also the author’s spiritual views and the role that Paganism plays in her life.

“From the very hour of his death, Jim Morrison has been seized and appropriated by the legions of those who know no joy, apparently, unless they are feeding off the creative and karmic energy of those they never knew in life -- would have been afraid, indeed, to know in life; in the process reinventing those lives to their own needy specifications -- specs that have little or nothing to do with how things actually were…”

All Aspects of Popular Culture

Kennealy-Morrison then explains that this vampiric focus on re-imaging reality is not limited to the musical profession and rock stars, but extends to all aspects of popular culture from Star Trek to Star Wars, from Marion Zimmer Bradley to Anne McCaffrey. In short, fan “wannabes” can be found throughout our society:

“I see this phenomenon in many other places besides the empty other half of my marriage bed: people who have built their lives into the voyages of the Starship Enterprise; people who just know their true rightful selves are not regular working stiffs but kings and queen and war dukes, if only someone other than the Society for Creative Anachronism would confirm it; who are Luke Skywalker wannabes wrestling with the Force (and, all too often, losing badly, 'cause they Just Don't Know The Power Of The Dark Side); who long to take oath as Free Amazons to Marion Zimmer Bradley or who dream of Impressing as dragonriders to Anne McCaffrey.”

The Difference Between Fantasy and Delusion

While Kennealy-Morrison acknowledges that, as a fantasy writer, she has no problems with fantastical imaginings, she feels that many types of fandom interactions border on “delusion””. The real problem, she explains, is that some writers are too good at world-building; so much so that they become a “tempting” target that draws in the fantasy minded. But she stresses that no matter how much temptation, fans have no rights to the work beyond their enjoyment. In fact, their attempts to interact with the creations most often “warp and distort” the original works:

“The problem arises when those readers and viewers start to think that mere admiration for the creation vouchsafes them some sort of bizarre entitlement: as if by right of their enjoyment of the book or the film or the TV series or the music, they have been handed blanket permission to lift whatever elements they might fancy for their own personal use; and, by extension, to further warp and distort those same elements from their intended context, very often clean against the stated wishes and intentions of the creators.”

The Vampire Metaphor

As mentioned earlier, a recurring theme in the essay is the belief that many fans are psychic vampires who harm not only the creator, but also themselves. This is most clearly articulated in the following section:

“For what these people are doing -- the ones who worship my husband as a god, the ones who do not just play Klingons but think they are Klingons -- is as simple as it is invidious. It is living between two worlds with a vengeance; it is fannishness carried to an unwholesome, unhealthy extreme. At best, it is larceny; at worst, it is psychic vampirism. Either way, it is a sin and a crime, and those upon whose reality or creativity, upon whose life or work …. the fannish fangs have fastened are by no means the sole victims. Almost always, the vampire is victim right along with the victimized, and no one is well served.”

Fans As Non-Contributors

In the essay, fans are not only portrayed as sinners and criminals, but they are also seen as shiftless and lazy, sitting in front of the TV. This perception of fandom may seem at odds with the proactive and interactive, even intrusive, nature of fandom as described above. However it has been a popular way of depicting media fandom and one that has persisted over the years. Like many critics of fandom, the worry is that unless fans abandon their pursuit of the labor of others, the world and human society will not improve. In this way, fans are not only seen as draining the creators and themselves, but they are also depriving society of their effort and contributions. They are, essentially, non-contributors:

“Who among us, after all, does not thrill with Luke Skywalker when Obi-wan first speaks to him of the Force?... Or we were entranced at Doors concerts, frozen in our seats by the sheer force, or Force, of psychic violence when Jim broke on through by means of the music and took us with him over the edge….. And all this is as it should be, this is as the creators intend. But what no creator ever intends is that the beholders of his or her art should attempt to co-opt that art simply because those beholders are too shiftless in brain or sluggish of spirit to do any thinking or seeing or creating of their own. The Holy Grail …. was not found by sitting in front of the tube and obsessing on Trek; the world will not be changed by staring slacker-jawed at MTV; work and query are ever the watchwords…..”

The Solution: Look But Do Not Touch

Kennealy-Morrison then sets forth the core of her argument: readers are allowed to look but should not touch. They may enjoy, but there can be no co-creation with authors. Nor can there be any interaction between the creator and the audience beyond that of a guest traveling to a foreign country. Entry is only with the permission of the head of the sovereign nations. Trespassers will be prosecuted. She then specifically prohibits fan fiction based on own fantasy books, something that, in later years, may have cost her both fans and money (see “reactions” below):

“The greater the admiration, the more license the lifters seem to think this confers. But the creations belong to us who created them; not to you who enjoy or admire them. We allow you to share those creations, to enter in upon them and to enjoy them with us; indeed, we very much want you to share, and hope you will, it is why we created those worlds in the first place, as homes and havens for ourselves and others. Even so, they are ours, not yours; you cross the borders by our grace, travelling on the passports we stamp for you. 'Co-creation' between reader and author, or viewer and creator, is a wishful delusion, not divine right; in the end, it's our toy-chest, and you must respect that. If you wish to join us in fantasy sovereignty, create a world of your own; you will be more than welcome. (This, by the way, is why I do not permit fan fiction set in my realm of Keltia, and why trespassers will be hearing not only from my lawyers but from my astral enforcers...)”

It is perhaps the tone of this paragraph that led one essay reader to comment: “Visitors to fictional worlds seem to be on the same level as little kids accompanying their mom to a china shop. You can come in, and you can look, but be quiet and don't touch anything; the clerk is watching you." (see below for full quote)

Early Discussion of RPF

At a time when little RPF appeared in media fan culture, Kennealy-Morrison touches on the fictional reimaging of celebrities. In the 1990s, RPF fandom was still essentially underground, often considered by media fans to be a taboo practice. However, in the pop music scene, the lines between celebrity performer and real person often blurred, leading to what she calls the theft of real “person's persona and reality”.

It is this second type of theft that Kennealy-Morrison feels is more egregious because it is the act of “feeding one's own inadequacies at that person's expense and at the expense of those who know and love him…… when you are guilty of this kind of theft, you have not only stolen from another being, you have… stolen from yourself. Your theft has been accomplished at the expense to yourself of your creativity, your reality; indeed, at the expense of your own soul. And that is a very, very high price to pay for what began as harmless fun.”

Interestingly, she positions this opposition to RPF out of concern for those fans who are creatively starving themselves on the stolen goods.

“When people take a template not theirs to begin with -- tinkering with it, filling it with their own neediness, wrenching it from its original purpose and its creator's control -- they lose track of what is rightfully theirs, their own imagination, and instead they fasten like vampires onto something that is not theirs and never was theirs from the beginning. In so doing, they prevent themselves from exploring the unsatisfied creativity that led them to do this in the first place."

Ten years later this stance caused one fan to comment “… in one blow PKM deligitimizes any and all historical fiction that includes actual historical figures as protagonist…” (see below for the full quote).

Reactions: 1999

One reader took exception to her statement that fans were literary vampires:

"....She seems completely opposite from Lois in specifically ruling out the concept of readers as co-creators. Not so much the part about disliking fan fiction, but the categorical denial that fans by their nature contribute *anything.* Visitors to fictional worlds seem to be on the same level as little kids accompanying their mom to a china shop. You can come in, and you can look, but be quiet and don't touch anything; the clerk is watching you." [1]

Others took a less critical approach, noting that her past experiences as Jim Morrison's wife had made her leery of interacting with the public:

"She's mainly leery of the dangerous 0.0012 percent of the general public that's really a few fries short of the same happy meal. You've got to know she's been abused by quite a few of them, between the Doors-worshippers and fantasy fiction fanatics who don't know where reality leaves off and fantasy begins. Present company excepted of course, even the sweet young things with a crush on Miles know that they are not really Ekaterin! <smile> You know, death threats, claims to be Jim's offspring or the true Ard-Rian of Keltia, one time a dagger in her front door, scary stuff. A very few other SF/Fantasy authors have been quite helpful to her, coaching her on how to cope with it.

Her allergy to fanfic is probably also connected to business. If you remember some of the trouble that at least one Darkover fan caused, claiming credit for something that appeared in one of MZB's books. Lawsuit, very messy, Patricia just does not want to get involved in one of those.

Between these two situations, PKM is just not inclined to be as laissez-faire about it as LMB. Notice that Lois makes it Very Clear that she doesn't read the fanfic either." [2]

One reader pointed out that he liked her books independent of her celebrity status:

"Okay, I can see where that would color your attitude towards your fans. On the other hand, after seeing her website, I really wanted to write and let her know that I liked her work for its own sake. All I know about Jim Morrison is that he was the lead singer for the Doors, and since I'm not crazy about that style of music, I don't really spend any time thinking about him, or her relationship with him, or anything else. I just want to read about the interesting world and cool characters that I first encountered in _The Copper Crown_." [3]

A friend comes to her defense:

"But in defense of my friend, let me mention that it's just a website about her work and opinions, and does not reflect the whole person. Her generosity with time and books for her fans compares favorably with Lois' kindnesses that have been reported on this list." [4]

Reactions: 2006

Many years later two fans discussed this essay and noted that the author had no regrets in discouraging fanfic and the resulting loss in readership:

"While acknowledging that she may've lost some of her "Keltiad" fanbase by discouraging fan-neepery thereof in the strongest possible way, she doesn't seem to regret that aspect. It's always fascinating to see the wide range of authorial reactions to fandom appropriation... but it's a little odd that she overtly acknowledges that her position probably lost her fanbase and, perhaps, her shelf life, yet is fine with that.)" [5]

"Reading "The Karma of Obsession." You know, while I'm not a fan of real-person fic by any means, it seems to me that in one blow PKM deligitimizes any and all historical fiction that includes actual historical figures as protagonists (or antagonists). And again, while I do see where she's coming from and agree that there's a line beyond which things become distinctly unsafe, it seems to me that she's talking about something that happens to every story that ever lasts."[6]

"I should probably note that while I enjoy reading her essays, most of the subject matter ends up falling into my mental wasteland of "this is all very interesting, but I have no real sense of my own reaction to the substance of what's being said"..."[7]


  1. ^ LOIS-BUJOLD Digest 2875, Archived version , November 2, 1999, comment by Louann M
  2. ^ LOIS-BUJOLD Digest 2875, November 2, 1999, comment by Susan F-D
  3. ^ LOIS-BUJOLD Digest 2876, Archived version, November 3, 1999, comment by Nancy
  4. ^ LOIS-BUJOLD Digest 2876, November 3, 1999, comment by Susan F-D
  5. ^ PKM resurgat, Archived version
  6. ^ PKM resurgat, Archived version
  7. ^ PKM resurgat, Archived version