We Didn't Start The Fire

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Title: We Didn't Start The Fire
Creator: fiercynn & Scribe
Date: 2012
Format: Digital
Length: 5:04
Music: We Didn't Start The Fire by Billy Joel
Fandom: Multifandom
URL: Dreamwidth, Archive of Our Own, Tumblr

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We Didn't Start The Fire is a multifandom vid depicting fifty years of fannish history from 1960 to 2010. It first premiered at Vividcon 2012 and then uploaded to Dreamwidth in August of the same year. Four years later, in April 2016, it was cross-posted to Archive of Our Own.

The vid is a collaboration between Dreamwidth users, fiercynn and Scribe. Though development for the vid began in 2008, the vid was not completed until four years later in 2012. The vid is an amalgamation of fandom activity throughout a span of fifty years. Footage from popular film and TV franchises are included, combined with footage of fan activities.

Vidder's notes


I first had the idea for this vid in November 2008, while I was on an interminably long bus ride from college to scribe’s house for Thanksgiving. She was just a budding vidder and she’d asked me to find a good song for her first Doctor Who vid that we could work on during the vacation. Instead shuffle took me onto Billy Joel, and I started thinking about how awesome it would be to create a multiandom vid about fannish history set to We Didn’t Start the Fire.

That was not the vid we worked on that Thanksgiving, but we did talk about how cool it would be – and how greatly out of our depth. Someone should do it, we said, but we didn’t realistically think we could. Still, the idea stuck in my brain for a while, and I even started mentally planning some of it – the first shot I ever matched up in my brain was the Smallville clip set to the lyric “Stranger in a Strange Land”, which ended up coming out exactly as I had imagined it.

I don’t think it was for another year or so that we actually decided we wanted to do this, damn it, even if I wasn’t a vidder and all of scribe’s vids up to that point had involved incredibly small ranges of canon to choose from (seriously; see her Merlin S1 “His Name Is Lancelot” vid all drawn from one episode, for example). And it definitely wasn’t until February 2011 that we physically started the vid, when scribe visited me during my semester abroad in London. We spent goodness-knows how much of that visit in my tiny dorm room, trying to figure out how it was all going to work, then walking around Hyde Park discussing it, and then going back to complete most of the last two verses just in that visit. I can’t even tell you how exciting it was to look even those few pieces put together; I watched the bit from “birth control” to “rock and roller cola wars” so many freaking times even back then.

After that we had a few more visits where we could actually work on it at the same place at the same time, but we mostly worked on this remotely, exchanging hundreds of emails, Skype calls, voice mails, texts, even Facebook messages about how to work on this vid. After we did the modern fandoms, the earliest stuff was the hardest for us. It involved a lot more research, of course, and we relied on sources like Fanlore, TV Tropes, LJ and DW communities (including ship_manifesto, crack_van, newbie_guide, and individual fandom communities) ,and wikipedias of all shapes and sizes for information. We also bugged all of our friends for information, texting them random questions at all hours like “are there any black people in Sailor Moon?” (slylilgoblin’s response: “AHAHAHAHA”) and “which BtVS episode has the backstory of Spike as a poet?” (redbrickrose quickly obliged). All of our roommates were subjected to watching many versions of the vid, which for my roommates at least meant hiding their eyes every time “British politician sex” came up, and our flists were barraged with questions and suggestions about “seminal fandom moments” and random lyrics like “Lebanon”. I still remember exact moments when we figured out what to do with certain parts, like when scribe’s roommate Patrick helped her solve “children of thalidomide”, or when I decided that a really bad pun plus a civil rights reference would work for “Little Rock”.

The original footage also required a lot of help from our friends and families. Scribe is responsible for most of it, but I’m proud to say that the Star Trek cocktails and Enterprise pizza cutter were filmed as my apartment, as well as the Inspector Spacetime poster (though, full disclosure, it was actually a birthday present from scribe).


So fiercynn's already talked a lot about how this vid came to be, which is good because it is a proven fact that she has a much better memory than I do. That said, there are a couple of turning points that have stuck in my mind.

When we first started actually considering this vid we didn't plan to pay much attention to the lyrics. The idea was just to use the long list-like concept of the song to illustrate a long list of fandoms, and that would be that. Of course, we soon realized that there were lyrics we'd have to be careful with. We didn't want to offend anyone by pairing their fandom with an offensive lyric, and we also didn't want to gloss over complicated lyrics in a problematic way. It was quickly apparent that we'd have to match at least some of the lyrics with care, and from there we figure we might as well go all the way. (You can see a chart of the historical meaning of each lyric and the reason we chose the corresponding clip here. The School for Champions website "We Didn't Start the Fire (Facts) History Sumamry from 1949-1989 by Ron Kurtus" was a key tool in making this vid; many of the historical explanations in the chart are his.)

The decision to match all the lyrics created a lot of work, a lot of fun, and a lot of problems. We Didn't Start the Fire deals with a whole host of topics (race, religion, war, politics, corruption, slaughter, to name a few) that are not always easy to pair up with popular television and movie sources, especially within the constraints of a particular decade. Throughout the process we had a working list of lyrics that needed to be matched with extreme care, and it was always a great victory when we could finally cross one of them off.

That said, we weren't able to match all of them unproblematically. We tried to walk a line between using popular fandoms, which was the point of the vid, and finding clips that fit the lyrics in a way we were comfortable with. Sometimes we pulled in sources that might not otherwise have been included (for example, Persepolis is in the vid more for its match with "Ayatollah's in Iran" than for any significant fannish import). Sometimes we couldn't even find non-fannish shows or movies that would fit. There are still a number of lyric-clip matches that are problematic (for example, the lyrics "Syngman Rhee," "Afghanistan," "Lebanon," "Belgians in the Congo," "Ho Chi Minh," and "Alabama," to name a few, are filled with white people and the occasional alien played by a white person).

That was one of the things this vid really drove home: it was staggering to go through popular fandoms over the years and see almost nothing but white men, white men, cisgendered able-bodied straight white men, and white men. (Oh, and buddy cops. SO MANY BUDDY COPS.) It was another case of walking the line between being true to popular fannish history and making the vid we wanted to make. On the positive side, you can also see the source material getting more and more diverse as the vid goes on through the decades, which is...something.

This brings me to the end of the vid. The ending was the one thing that fiercynn and I disagreed about for a long time (turns out she was right, I should have known), but we always had the same idea of what we wanted it to be, just different thoughts about how to accomplish it. The ending is- hopefully- what takes the vid from being about a bunch of fandoms to being about fandom. We wanted to address the above problem, to show the amazing way that fandom deals with problematic, beloved source canons, the transformative works we create, and the way we engage with media and society. (For example, you should definitely check out the rest of the sexswap Star Trek scene by the Girls on Film)

And if I can get sappy for a moment, the ending is also about the way that our stories do go on, and on, and on, through remakes and reimaginings and fanworks alike, and about the amazing communities we've built around them, and the work that we'll keep doing, and hey, I love you guys.


As I mention in the vidder's notes, I came up with the idea for this vid four years ago, and after I managed to convince her that I was not a complete crazy person for wanting to do this (...okay, so I didn't so much convince her of my sanity as persuade her that our collective insanity would be worth it), scribe and I have been legitimately working on it for at least three. I should clarify that "working on it" for me meant mostly research: figuring out what fandoms needed to be represented for a comprehensive fandom history, trying to find important moments from them, as well as trying to find separate moments that matched the lyrics. It was a hell of a lot of work, especially for the older fandoms. Mind you, scribe did at least half of the research herself - I just want to point out that she ALSO did all the actually vidding, and she is basically a total rockstar.

The internal logic of this vid was really important to us, mostly because for such an unwieldy project we had to create rules for ourselves to keep us from going all over the place with it. We wanted to start off with original footage that showed people beginning fannish activities - first the more passive ones like opening a book or putting in a DVD, then the specifically creative ones like knitting or writing or opening Audacity. Then, the lyrics start. As our spreadsheet shows, we had a basic system of a decade of fandom per verse (the 1960s and 1970s were combined into the first verse, but separated by an instrumental break). The lyrics were matched by shots that matched in some way, as explained on the spreadsheet. I just want to say here that every single shot has a well-thought-out reason behind it - it still may not be entirely fitting, but we definitely tried our best. We agonized over matching these lyrics, which is what we were trying to show by making the spreadsheet available, but believe me when I say that even the descriptions there are nothing compared to the pages of notes that we emailed each other about justifying every single fucking lyric. If for some reason you want more information on how we decided on a particular thing for a particular lyric, we'd be happy to go even more in depth about it. That's especially true for the problematic lyrics and clips - as scribe talked about it in her post, we struggled with assigning fandoms that were dominated by able-bodied cis straight white men to historical references that were very clearly...not. Some of them remain deeply problematic, but we tried as hard as we could to minimize the awfulness of those matchings.

The logic for the choruses were that they would represent what we thought of as "seminal fandom moments" in the various canons. These were sometimes important plot moments, but more often than not they were relationshippy moments to represent what we felt the fandoms cared about the most (or at least, the most frequently). Hence themes that just kind of fell together, such as "people catching each other in a semi-embrace" in the 1960s-70s chorus, or "violent first meetings" and "hands" in the first 2000s chorus. To some extent, these were even more difficult to decide on than the lyrics, since it involved searching for the things that fandom really cared about and connected with.

Then, there was everything after the last verse. We always knew that we wanted this to be a very meta part, but as scribe said, we argued a bit on exactly how to do it. The ending was, for us, split into three parts:

3:42 to 3:54 - characters being meta about their own canons, like Smallville's Warrior Angel movie, AtLA's "The Ember Island Players", Abed creating a show about the Study Group, Wendy painting the Middleman

3:54 to 4:00 - women from the "repeating fandoms" of Robin Hood shows, Sherlock Holmes movies/shows, Doctor Who, and Star Trek, to demonstrate not only that these fandoms continue to be beloved but that we love and identify with some of the secondary (female) characters in them

4:01 to 4:14 - characters creating things (which were often fannish in the canons, like Abed dressing up as Batman or Becky writing Wincest fic) alternating with original footage of real life fans doing the same types of creative things

4:15 to 4:23 - featured fanworks, including some that are relatively "mainstream" (like A Very Potter Musical), and others that I think of as more my part of fandom lim's vid Us, the OTW website, etc)

4:24 to 4:47: original footage of fannish things just like at the beginning, including fannish tattoos, Star Trek cocktails and food (a pizza cutter shaped like the Enterprise!), footage from cons, Racebending protests from the AtLA documentary, etc etc

Footage and featured fandoms

Fandom sources

Additional Footage

Comments & Reception


I salute anyone who tried to do the multifandom historical thang in vid form...it always chokes me up a little. But rarely do vidders pull it off this well. Also, yay for reading fandom history so broadly and finding the diversity! It's a thing of beauty and will be a joy for as long as fans call themselves fans. Thanks you!![1]
Hi! here from copperbadge and OMGs this is the most amazing thing ever! It's so wonderful, and filled with so much love for fandom in general!

Not to mention, it's so much fun ti go "Oh, it's Buffy! There's Firefly! STAR TREK! INCEPTION! XENA!!!!!" XD XD

Thank y'all for creating this wonderful piece of art!

I cried while watching this. I don't think that until this moment, 8 years into official "fandom", that I really understood that a fan is what I've been my whole life. So much of what I did as a kid and a teenager, before I had a clue what fandom was, is explained by this. Thank you for including so much of what has made my life happier.[3]
This is amazing. I've done my share of facepalming over fandom antics, but this is something that makes me really proud to be a fan. Being able to see the evolution of canons (I did notice the sheer amount of white males in the first minute or so) to something more diverse is really interesting. At the same time, it also brings a little of the history fandom has to light. Thank you for this vid![4]
Oh, yikes, this is really embarrassing, but I've... pretty much been crying about this for the last hour? I just. First time watching it, at the beginning with all these shows I've never actually seen, I was thinking "this is nice, but it's not mine, it's not my history," and then it got to the later verses and suddenly it was all these things I did know, fandoms I am in and have been in and that's when I started crying, because oh, my God, this is my story after all. I'm part of this - this huge incredible transformative revolutionary beautiful thing and yeah, if I wait to comment until I can be rational I will be sitting here until doomsday. And. Yeah, this comment is just as embarrassing as I thought it would be, but - what I'm trying to say, I guess, is thank you. With absolutely everything I have, thank you.[5]
Beautiful. I especially like the DragonCon badge at the end, as it's only a couple of weeks away right now and my friends and I are counting the days.

I so enjoyed picking out different things I recognized, seeing the many, many fandoms that bring joy to us all.

Thank you.[6]
Ok, I know I need to watch this a gazillion more times to fully appreciate it, but my gosh, it's great! I'm so impressed with the detail and the matching of clips. I was laughing out loud at "British politician sex" - seriously SO GOOD! *GGG* But oh, wow, so many amazing things in here, so many great matches. The tie-in with fandom itself in the start and end - and the meta-fannish clips in there - just so well done. I tip my hat to you both - and thanks for pouring all this love into fandom.[7]
This was the greatest thing ever. I've been in fandom of one sort or another since I first saw "Wonder Woman" on TV as a little girl in the 70s; turning 40 this year, I realize just how long and in how many ways I've liked so many different things ... that you included. Even obscure and non-sci-fi things![8]
I actually was not that impressed. Okay, they edited a bunch of cool stuff together, but that’s all over the place now. If they really wanted to impress me, they should have come up with new lyrics.

But I don’t like Billy Joel, and I don’t really like the original song – and the song really didn’t have much to do with the images aside from the occasional lyric going along with the image, so it just didn’t strike me as that clever.

But, they had VERONICA MARS! in a super quick or you’ll miss it shot so…not a total loss ;)[9]
I love the way this blended both fannish practices and fannish sources and enjoyed reading your vidder notes. It's always interesting to see what gets discovered both by the makers and viewers. I personally really enjoyed seeing how you began with consumption of the official sources and ended with the fannish creations, especially the ones which commented on those intersections. Terrific project about which so much could be said. I really enjoyed it :)[10]
This vid is so amazing. It made me tear up and flail around and want to keysmash FOREVER, so I think you've really captured the essence of fandom here. :D I mean, first of all, what a huge undertaking - 50 years of fandoms! And of course the specific clip-to-lyric matches are delightful and hilarious - Richard Nixon's back again! Trouble in the Suez! England's got a new queen! HEEEE! And I do love the way you can see more diversity as the vid goes on - you get more people of color, more awesome ladies, more actual queer content (not just the slashy moments of the early fandoms, which you foreshadowed with that great Kirk/Spock clip, referencing thingswithwings' vid... SO WELL DONE). But then you also do get a sense of how far we have yet to go - LOVE the inclusion of the racebending documentary, for example. But of course, the shift near the end that you guys talk about - from vidding many different fandoms to vidding fandom itself... well, that was really where I started crying because it's just flawless. I love it. I don't actually have the words to tell you how much, so I'll stop it here. Thank you for sharing this vid, it's a treasure. :)[11]
This is awesome. But where's the Marvel Movie Universe??[12]


Just dropping a note. This is making the rounds on tumblr. I just watched it. I teared up a little. This was PHENOMENAL. Easily one of the best vids I've seen. I'm a bit overwhelmed with nostalgia and love right now that I may need to go watch it again.

I think one of my favorite parts of it, including the fact that you included a few of the smaller fandoms that I was a part of so long ago that I kinda thought would get skipped, is that even if I wasn't necessarily a fan of most of the shows/'verses, I knew what they all were. It's one of the great things about being part of this world; you make friends, you bond over the things you have in common, you get introduced to some other show or whatever, and even if you don't really watch/enjoy it, you UNDERSTAND it, you learn to identify, you get excited about it even if you still aren't truly a part of it. I have still to see more than one episode of Doctor Who, but I love how it was represented along with Star Trek, how those two shows were that vein, along with Star Wars part way in, that ran through the entire thing.

It was beautiful. I could go on and on and on. Thank you so much for this. OH, and have to say, the way you match up the song to the scenes? WOW, that honestly upped the entire ante for me. I love that song, have had it just about memorized since it came out in junior high, and you did a fantastic job with it.

And now that I've fawned all over you, I shall take my leave. But thank you, from the bottom of my fannish heart, thank you :)[13]


Brittana but not Klaine. I clap very very slowly for you, I was going to reblog this and tell others what you did, but using Glee and yet not representing the KLAINE (aka biggest right now) shipdom is kind of unforgivable.[14]



Extra huge thank-yous for the shot of Michael Ealy as Darwyn on the line "Malcolm X." So few people get a Sleeper Cell Reference.

I like the ongoing Who references. And the end is perfect. The beginning is perfect.

You made me want to vid again in a "ZOMG where is my editor" way instead of an "I always wanted to do a vid to that song" way.[15]


4 years? I have so many feels and thoughts about this. The spreadsheet! It's a beauty and seeing it is giving me all sorts of feels for fandom and the study of fandom. Thank you for sharing this video and your thought-process.[16]
*squeals* Supernatural Sherlock Doctor Who Firefly X-Files-

*passes out in a dead faint*

*wakes up*

*watches again*[17]
Fantastic vid! So great to see my favs popping up - and the fandom wall dedicated to Ianto in Cardiff, that made me tear up. Loved this to bits.[18]
I just watched it for the third time and still see so much cool stuff, even at the end! The Lotripping zine! Dom's feet? SCA (my fandom during the early 80s!)[19]


Everyone's said it better than me, but every time I thought, 'where's THIS fandom?' there it was. :D Can't stop grinning.[20]

Further reading


  1. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by filomena on 08 August 2012
  2. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by celestineangel on 14 August 2012
  3. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by bicrim on 14 August 2012
  4. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by daymarket on 14 August 2017
  5. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by sour_idealist on 14 August 2012
  6. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by thaddeusfavour on 14 August 2012
  7. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by kabal42 on 15 August 2012
  8. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by veronica_rich on 15 August 2012
  9. ^ Comment by Lisamarie on the Tor article, posted on 15 August 2012
  10. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by yourlibrarian on 17 August 2012
  11. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted on 18 August 2012
  12. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted on 26 August 2012
  13. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, posted by harempriestess on 20 April 2013
  14. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, by an anonymous user posted on 10 May 2014
  15. ^ Comment on Dreamwidth, by valarltd on 10 June 2015
  16. ^ Comment on AO3, posted by Ani_Mei on 10 April 2016
  17. ^ Comment on AO3, posted by Origamidragons on 11 April 2016
  18. ^ Comment on AO3, posted by miwahni on 12 April 2016
  19. ^ Comment on AO3, posted by msilverstar on 28 May 2016
  20. ^ Comment on AO3, posted by pygmalioneffect
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