TheoryofFicGate

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Event: TheoryofFicGate
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Date(s): roughly February 18, 2015
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TheoryofFicGate began roughly February 18, 2015 after several comments that did not fit into fannish norm appeared on a fan's fic, a story called "Delilah" (posted at AO3).

The fan, waldorph, discovered that their fic was used on a academic class syllabus. The weekly DeCal class was called “The Theory of Fanfiction,” and in it students met once a week to share and explore the forms and themes of fan fiction, and the genre’s role in the literary world as well as in society as a whole.

Commenting on fics was part of the class requirement. waldorph then wrote a post called "So Your Fic is Required Reading: Hahahanope." The post went viral, and generated hundreds, if not thousands, of comments.

Included in these comments and interactions was a nasty troll (not unexpected), and later, an incite by two BNFs to bully and dogpile students in the class.

Some Topics Discussed

The uproar caused fans to discuss many topics in subsequent posts, topics that included:

  • fandom and visibility,
  • different views regarding the internet as a public/private place
  • feedback
  • fandom and the underground
  • who has the "right" to read fanfic
  • what constitutes a real fan
  • the divide between fans and non-fans,
  • discussion about whether fandom is or isn't a cohesive, cooperative group
  • the sport that fannish outrage can become
  • the roles of acafans
  • the roles and influence of BNFs

The Post that Alerted Fans

So Your Fic is Required Reading: Hahahanope is a February 2015 Tumblr post by waldorph. It was created in response to a the inclusion of their fic Delilah, along with many other, fanfics being required reading on a class syllabus. This alone would have gone unnoticed, but the class also required that students comment in some sort of substantive manner at the fic's site as well.

In their post, waldorph included links to the other fanfics that are on the syllabus. This was done so that these fics' authors could have a "head's up," and so that other fans could "give them some love" after having a spotlight shown upon them in a way they probably did not expect.

On Feb 22, 2014 waldorph adopted "TheoryofFicGate" as a tumblr tag.[1]

A summary of events through Feb 23, 2015 by learnfromthewintertrees: Round-up: TheoryOfFicgate - learn from the winter trees, Archived version

Excerpt from waldorph's Post

So, I got to the bottom of why I was getting such weird comments on a relatively obscure fic of mine—it’s required reading in a class being taught, and one of the assignments is to leave a comment on the required reading which is more critical than constructive so that the professors know students are “engaging” with the texts in a way that isn’t just “YAY I LIKED IT.”

But waldorph, how do you know? Well, one of the teachers of said class commented on my fic, Delilah, which was this week’s required reading, and I was able to track down the syllabus and uncover the assignment which was prompting the flood in my inbox. The comments I received were bizarrely tone-deaf, condescending, rude, and more than that, completely out of step and touch with all fannish norms, and actually prompted me to write a post about concrit and feedback earlier this week. As soon as she explained that it was a class, and that these were fannish-outsiders, it made sense, as opposed to me assuming someone had recc’d it and I was getting way more backlash than usual on a pretty obscure fic. Unfortunately, I dealt with this all week before one of the teachers stepped in, and that was only when I started receiving flaming trolls.

For this reason, I’ve alerted all of the authors listed on the syllabus that they’re about to experience this because, frankly, I would have appreciated a heads up. I’ve also listed them all below, including the weeks that their works will be reviewed. I think that it might be nice if people could spread this around and leave some positive vibes on these works in particular—some of them are pretty well known and some of them aren’t but I think they all equally deserve support from within the community. Additionally, if you know these authors and can contact them directly, please point them in my direction or in the direction of this post and I can provide them with a little more information. I reached out to everyone, but obviously contact information can be out of date.

Ultimately, there’s nothing we can do about people examining works that we never meant to be examined in this way. I think we all have to accept that the way fandom gets interacted with is changing, not just the way that we interact with the rest of the world. I do think that as a community we can and should support each other.

Please signal boost this post so that we can get these authors some good vibes. Obviously we’re into the semester already, so I’ve also included works that have already been through this, please be sure to give them love as well.

The Class Syllabus, and a Write-Up in a Newspaper

The class syllabus: DeCal : The Theory of Fanfiction, Archived version

From DeCal's newspaper, "The Daily Californian":
The literary community is dedicated to all sorts of reading: novels, novellas, autobiographies about sports, history, fiction — and more recently, the subculture of eroticism and sex.

As a subset of this community, students on campus have created a space to discuss fan fiction, a literary genre generated by fans of fictional stories. These fans dedicate their time to recreate plots that involve characters from the original piece — a form of “fan labor” that has grown since the beginning of the Internet.

At a weekly DeCal class called “The Theory of Fanfiction,” students share and explore the forms and themes of fan fiction. Students meet each Monday to discuss the genre’s role in the literary world as well as in society as a whole. Through the class, started this semester by UC Berkeley senior [I L] and junior [K H], students explore the history of fandom, the role of social media in developing the genre and fan fiction’s importance in providing a vehicle for alternative sexuality and kink expression.

Each week’s discussion is centered on a specific topic, such as the history of fan fiction or kink in fandoms, with certain fan fics as required reading. [2]

The Class was Not Taught by Professors

Unlike most instructor led classes, "The Theory of Fanfiction" was a "DeCal" class created by undergraduates for other undergraduates and taught by undergraduates. UC Berkeley does give students course credits for the class and while it is signed off by a faculty instructor, there is little oversight.

As several fans noted:

So it turns out this is actually for a DeCal class from my alma mater, UC Berkeley…and the answer to “what kind of professor” is “one who isn’t actually a professor at all. [3]
....so if you’re imagining someone with a phd and an academic appointment at the #1 ranked english department in the country assigning erotic fiction to a class of clueless 18 year olds… just know that that’s not what this is. it seems more like, i don’t know, a well-organized book club than anything else. [4]
Just wanted to add (2009 grad here): DeCals are really small classes that meet for maybe 1-2 hours a week, usually in the evenings. And I mean really small. Most are 10 people max, and are only taught once and never again. [5]
...it wasn't/isn't a real course. It's one designed by undergrads for undergrads, sort of a glorified reading group. The undergrads running it were fans themselves, and they just thought it'd be a good idea in the "I love fandom and if we put enough academic words on it it's legitimate!" kind of way. of course, it got out of control on Tumblr because no one ever fact-checks anything. [6]

Bullying, Apologies, and Dogpiling

A day after the original post, waldorph made this statement:
So I Guess This Needs to Be Said: Do not bully the people in that class. Don’t do it to the teachers. Continue to give your two cents, be respectful, but I just had to delete a comment doxxing one of the kids who commented on my fic, and I will delete all of them as they come. [7]
That very day, one of the student teachers wrote this apology to waldorph:
I would like to apologize for any harm or discomfort I may have caused to any individuals in the community. It was not my intent to irritate or cause distress. I see now from all of your responses how my comments in this space are viewed as aggressive, insipid, and without decency and for that I extend my humblest and most sincere apologies. Especially to you, Waldorph. I am sorry for barging in on your space and leaving such a remark. It was childish and, as you and others have stated over and over again, completely uninvited. So again, I sincerely apologize. That said, I would like to thank all of you for the responses that you have provided. I took care to read and understand each and every one and I appreciate the time and effort you all have put into your works and this discussion on Fanfiction, Fandoms, and the art of studying/existing within this culture. Never in my 10 years of reading Fanfiction have I ever seen such an amazing outpouring of support and love. Thank you for supporting the author you love and your culture as a whole, and thank you for correcting me and taking your time to help me, and hopefully many others, understand your culture. [8]
After these apologies, and after the student teacher asked her class to stop adding comments to public posts, a fan named copperbadge made a malicious post in his blog, and another fan, scifigrl47, reblogged it.
What copperbadge (MCU BNF, not on the list [of class required reading]) posted a link to the syllabus (including the emails/real names of the instructors) and said

If you’d like to share your thoughts with the “teachers” of the “Let’s go be dicks to fan authors” class, their emails are listed in this cached document. You know, if you wanted to. Unsolicited criticism seems to be the order of the day, after all.

He has since deleted the post, but only because people shamed him into hit and he explicitly doesn't apologize. things-i-100-do-not-care-about

I think some people were also pissed at scifigrl47, but she's deleted the reblog and apologized. [9]
A fan on FFA posted:
I'm far more worried about BNF's siccing a friends list on people who ship or like tropes they dislike than I am about them being sensitive to criticism of their own writing. Being sensitive to something that you put a lot of time, effort, and emotion into is just human nature and far more understandable than whatever it is that class was trying to accomplish. On the other hand being cruel and unfair to other people will make me lose my respect for you. We are all in fandom together and we make this place a great place to be or a shitty one depending on how we throw our weight around. BNFs can do a lot of damage if they target others for abuse. [10]
Another fan added:
Waldorph handled it appropriately. I think in hindsight she (I think she's a she? Sorry if my pronouns are incorrect) might have sent it privately to the other writers, but she might not have had all their contact info.

That was the best she could do under the circumstances. She also deleted comments from her fic doxxing one of the students (not the student-teachers).

She's been very good about how she's handled the whole thing and I have nothing but admiration for her, and I'd never heard of her before.

Copperbadge handed out the student-teachers' email addresses and told people to harass them. [11]
While many agreed that the dogpiling and bullying was bad, others pointed out that linking to the course page which contained the syllabus and the contact info for the two student instructors and their faculty supervisor was not "doxxing":
"Doxxing is publishing private information about someone, like their address, for the purpose of harassment. Sharing a link to an article that in turn links to a class’s webpage with the PUBLICLY POSTED email contact information for someone is NOT DOXXING. Get off of copperbadge's back. The two “teachers” of this class have their email addresses publicly listed, as does their faculty sponsor. "[12]
No matter what it may be called, the call to arms did have a negative impact on the students in the class. As one class member wrote:
"I AM IN THIS CLASS. It’s pass/no pass. It meets for an hour and a half and all we do is read/write fanfiction. Our instructors have also changed our curriculum now, saying we can no longer post comments on the fics.

Did you know our instructor’s personal information was stolen?

People crashed a course website for our college, emailed and harassed various Board members and are saying, for some ungodly reason they should be expelled??

We were just cruising along in a fun class. We’re all fans. We all read/write fanfiction. This class is literally two worthless credits. so…why? Why the big dealio?"[13]

In Response To Feedback, Changes Made To The Course

"I’m a student from the Theory of Fanfiction course; we just concluded class, and I’d like to let everybody know what’s up with the TheoryofFicgate situation and how we are addressing it. I’m not a facilitator, nor am I any sort of chosen representative— but I do believe our amends will be effective, and want everyone to know that we are taking action.

The main problem is that authors were receiving unsolicited critical comments from people outside of their fandom. We addressed this in two parts. First, communication between our facilitators and the authors on the reading list is happening, and understandings have been reached. Several authors have even approved of their fics being taught. The assignment to leave concrit has been completely discontinued. I realize this left many authors feeling attacked and unsafe— some students have expressed discomfort with the task as well— and I do want to formally apologize. Second, regarding the fact that students are reading fics outside of our fandoms, facilitators have changed the assignment accordingly. The original syllabus listing was organized by fanfic tropes, such as Alternate Universe, Crossovers, and our reading list now extends to fics within the student’s chosen fandom, so we may have appropriate context and knowledge of source material.

One clarification I do want to make is regarding the demographic of our class. We are all fans. Everyone has a different chronology within fandom, but we joined the class because A) we each have our individual investments in fandom and B) we all want to contribute to the culture of of fic-writing. We made introductions the first class, and some of the (many, many) fandoms listed were: Harry Potter, Superwholock, Marvel, Tolkien, Star Trek, Soul Eater, Various Anime/Manga. Personally, I’m a huge Les Mis, The Song of Achilles, mythologies fan. Reading everybody’s comments and posts going around, I understand that people feel that outsiders are invading their fandom safe space— I believe that once students are choosing fics within their own fandoms to read, the experience will improve for everybody, including us (because yes, reading fic without context of source material truly diminishes the full fandom experience).

Having said that, of course our students come from all paths of life, and there is valid concern regarding a mandated reading list with queer kinky potentially triggering fic. Let it be known that on the very first day of class, the facilitators taught the class to navigate warning tags on the fics through AO3 and ff.net (which are the two main venues we read fic from). They made it explicitly clear that if there’s anything the students are even remotely uncomfortable with, reading the fic is absolutely unnecessary. This allowance has been enacted several times already to my personal knowledge, so students know we don’t have to read fics that may be bad for us.

Lastly, the issue of the “Fifty Reviews” assignment. Many students actually expressed appreciation for that being brought up. Our class has around thirty students, and it was assumed that of the fifty reviews, a solid portion would be coming from our peers. Also, we do not need to gather fifty comment reviews— rather, kudos, bookmarks, Tumblr reblogs without comments, Tumblr reblogs with comments, Tumblr reblogs with comments in the tags— these all count. The facilitators were understanding of the students’ concerns in gathering the fifty reviews, and we will continue negotiating this assignment as our class moves along.

All in all, as a class we corrected our methods of study, and hopefully will move forward without causing further undue agitation, stress, and hurt to the fandom communities. As a long-time member of fandom, I wanted to let everyone know that we truly do have everyone’s best interests in mind. I recognize there are still important dialogues that may still need to happen, but honestly I’m worried about letting people know my Tumblr URL. Yet this is an issue that warrants follow-up, so know that I will still be tracking all of the tags and legitimate concerns that may be further addressed. If anyone has further ideas of how I can open a line of discussion without compromising my safe space, please let me know."[14]

Discussion at AO3

See TheoryofFicGate/Discussion at AO3.

Discussion at Tumblr

See TheoryofFicGate/Discussion at Tumblr.

Discussion at Fail_Fandomanon

See TheoryofFicGate/Discussion at Fail_Fandomanon.

Additional Reporting

References

  1. waldorph. - What’re we calling this? TheoryofFicgate? I like it., Archived version
  2. "Students explore erotica in fan fiction DeCal at UC Berkeley", Archived version
  3. this space intentionally left blank: So Your Fic is Required Reading: Hahahanope, Archived version
  4. weird america, So Your Fic is Required Reading: Hahahanope, Archived version
  5. waldorph., Archived version
  6. With great power...; archive link.
  7. waldorph. - So I Guess This Needs to Be Said, Archived version
  8. Public Apology Statement: Aeolus Pantheon, Archived version
  9. With great power...; archive link.
  10. With great power...; archive link.
  11. With great power...; archive link.
  12. Holy heez people; archive link.
  13. Destructive Fairy, Archived version
  14. Update from Theory of Fanfic Class; archive link.