Why are you here?

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Title: Why are you here?
Creator: June 3, 1995
Medium: online
Fandom: Babylon 5
External Links: rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated: reposted at The Worlds of JMS
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Why are you here? (technically: "Why are you here (rastb5)?") is a 1995 post by J. Michael Straczynski at rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated and reposted at "The Worlds of JMS."

It was written in response to a fan named rastb5.

The Post

The notion that I'm asking for no story ideas to be posted so that I can rip off story ideas is the most lame-brain statement I have heard in 10+ years of being on the nets. Saying "no story ideas" doesn't keep anyone from suing; it just keeps useable ideas out of where I can see them, period.

I have said, often, and repeatedly, and clearly, why I am here. The problem is that you have one or two absolute mindless conniving distrustful fuckheads who have no perceivable life other than to try and ride my ass about one thing or another, swinging from one stupid theory to another to another with as much astonishing speed and illogic as the Simpson defense team. They will seize upon anything, ANYthing, and try and twist it around to try and convince others that somehow, somewhichway, I'm getting away with something, I'm conning people, I'm lying, I'm actually Reichminister Goebbels who set up a twin for the little WW II misunderstanding and am currently trying to sneak back into the United States disguised as Rondo Hatton.

Loonies and feebs and creeps, oh my.

Okay, you want it straight up? Here it is. I'm here for a number of reasons. 1) I like to get kind of a sense of the room; I'm not going to change anything, but writing for TV is like writing for a vacuum; you nevr (never) get to see the reaction. This is the ONLY chance I get to get a reaction to something I've written and produced, and maybe it's ego, maybe it's just that I work very hard to make something effective,and want to see if it had the desired effect. Writers and artists and singers are like that.

2) I think that TV producers in general get a very skewed sense of who's in the audience. This exchange gives access to people across the country to someone who makes TeeVee, and lets me hear them. How often would someone in Clearwater, Oklahoma, have the chance to express an opinion to someone in LA making a TV series? Not bloody often. And that is in large measure, I think, why TV has become so insular. And so unresponsive to its audience. So I'm kind of a test-case volunteer for this, in the hopes of luring more producers onto the nets and creating a more open exchange, making producers accountable for what they make.

3) I've dedicated over 15 years of my life to trying to demystify TV production and writing. I've written columns and columns, reams of articles, a book...all trying to help people understand how this medium works, because you can't control or influence something unless you truly UNDERSTAND it...why things are done a certain way. This is part of an educational project that I've been doing for over a decade, a natural outgrowth of that process. By the time this is all done, there will be an online document of hundreds of archival pages -- maybe thousands -- covering the development, birth and ongoing creation of a TV series at a depth never before chronicled, which will be available to students and universities and ordinary folks. I think that's a valuable experiment.

Finally: 4) I'm an SF fan. I think SF fans are, overall, the most exploited bunch around. They're expected to line up, buy the toys, watch the show and shut the hell up. I think it's time some respect for that audience was shown by allowing them a voice. This is part of my sense of personal obligation to the field that spawned many wonderful years of reading.

My request has always been just that, a request, and a simply stated one. You can talk about story ideas all you want. But I simply cannot be here if you do that. I will not run the risk of being sued, or having the show that I've labored over for, now, eight years being victimized by some crazed yahoo who posts something and then decides I've ripped him off, despite the fact that this material has been sitting in my computer for YEARS. And a Crazed Yahoo (tm) doesn't have to win, doesn't even think he may have a chance to win...but defending a case can run hundreds of thousands of dollars, thanks to our wonderful legal system, and can tie up episodes for years.

You cay some of these people think the chances of a lawsuit are "ignorable." Yeah, for them. They're not the ones at risk. If they're wrong, it's "Oh, huh, guess I was wrong." For me it's several years of courtrooms, lawyers, depositions and the like. It's frankly not their call to make. It's mine. Warners knows I'm here, and I periodically have to reassure them that I'm keeping the promise about not exposing the show to risk. And I have to maintain that stance, or vanish.

I would remind a very few of the feebs I noted before that in fact, there WAS no rec.arts.b5 area until I showed up on the alt group. At that point, membership jumped *dramatically* enough to merit the formation of a rec.arts group. I have no particular infatuation with my own sense of importance -- much the contrary -- but I do know that my being here is in many ways directly responsible for there BEING a B5 rec group. Now I'm being told, "Hey, why make special rules for him, who cares, let him blow off if he doesn't like it."

Not a special rule. Just courtesy. Plain and simple. Why is it that one can no longer simply make a request out of courtesy? Instead one must now back it up with lengthy treatises about legalities and laws and risk factors...and one's own personal motivations are challenged and questioned and suspected and put on trial and smeared by a callous few to whom the very concept of "courtesy" is a foreign idea, and who exist only to bring grief to me and the bulk of users here. There are PLENTY of ways for people to suggest story ideas to one another without exposing them to me...email lists, private groups, whatever.

The theory, as I understand it, is that people are coming up with story ideas because they like the show. Why, therefore, would they choose to *endanger* the show by posting them where I can see it? I had this recently with a fanzine publisher who turned down a B5 fictional story because I'd asked, politely, that none be published until after the show had ended. The writer got very upset and said, "Well, who CARES what he wants?" The side-product was more important than the creation that spawned it.

I've made my motivations clear from day one. Anyone who wants to challenge them can go fuck themselves, I don't have to answer to them or give them any credence whatsoever by even acknowleging them. It's in all the faq files from the beginning; let them go do some research, it's all there. They pick on this today; tomorrow they'll move onto something else, because they don't actually CARE about the truth. They care about being hyenas, and biting at people who didn't bow down and kiss their respective asses.

And frankly, that to me has become one of the most wearing aspects of being online; the wackos and creeps who just live to make trouble. For that reason alone, I sometimes think, "Fuck it, I don't need this, I don't need to go to bed angry, I don't need the distraction when I'm trying to write, I'm doing this to do a Nice Thing. Period. And if all I'm going to get is a few relentless assholes bitching at me 24 hours a day, then the hell with it." Then the sane part of me remembers that the word FEW appears in that sentence. And that these few jerks are irrelevant, despite their attempts to create relevancy for themselves by attacking others. And I calm down, and after a bit, log back on again.

To continue the experiment, as outlined above.

And that's the sum and substance of it. It's really a question of which people prefer: having access to the producer of Babylon 5, or blowing out huge story ideas. There can be one, but not the other. It ain't the best case scenario, but it's the only workable one. It's my show that would be at risk otherwise, and I'm sorry, but on that count noboty (nobody) else gets a vote. Nobody else is entitled to determine the risk factor, or determine if it's relevant. That's my call. And should enough people decide their story ideas are what they really want to discuss, or even a few (it only takes a couple to pose sufficient risk), then I'll simply have to fade outta here.

Because the experiment will continue, on other systems. CompuServe, GEnie, others...where the understanding is respected, and courtesy rises above self-interest or unwarranted personal attacks. And AS HAS BEEN THE CASE HERE, I should point out, since this thing began. If a few people want to change that, well, that's their right. I just can't be here if it happens. That simple.

And yes, you can repost this, but if you do in the public forums, do so in toto. The usual band of self-styled critics/hatchet folks will get all bent out of shape because I used a couple naughty words here and there, and because I got all bent out of shape simply because they did something as innocuous as impugning my motives and implying theft on a daily, consistent basis, but y'know what?

Fuck 'em. [1]

His Follow-Up

A short time later, JMS wrote a follow-up post:

A postscript to my previous note. I debated including this, because it sounds self-serving, but it also happens to be the truth, so after thinking about it, I'm going to add it anyway.

I don't get paid to be here. Nobody asked me to be here. Nobody's forcing me to be here. (And a few here would, apparently, love nothing more than to drive me off here so they can say whatever they want without the inconvenience of the target for their attacks disagreeing with them with anything as unfair as facts.) I'm a volunteer.

I am, insofar as I know, the ONLY television producer to be on-line to this extent, creating what is really an interactive experience. This is a great experiment, one which will probably go down in the record books when people look back at the history of the net. There have already been huge articles about this in books and magazines. We're pioneering something here. And a lot of other producers I know are looking on to see how this all shakes out. If it works, others will come on-line. If not, if they're just going to get hammered and slandered and abused, they're not.

Maybe the problem is...I'm free. And you respect something to the extent you pay for it. My consulting fees are in excess of $100 per hour. I spend 3 hours per day just on the internet. That's 21 hours a week, 2 and a half work days per week. Most of that I spend not in forwarding my own ego, or selling merchandise, or making money...I spend it answering questions. Who was this actor? What did this mean? Why are CGI used? How long does it take to make an episode? What does a producer do? How do you write a character? How do you sell a show?

It's the kind of information you can't get anywhere else unless you want to take one of those triple-damned McKee seminars and spend, oh, about $500 for one weekend doing so. I read and I read, 500 messages per day slip past me, some in detail, some less so. I provide a service. I provide information. I answer questions. I don't do it for the ratings, because if you added up all the people who read this group, which I think is about 10,000 people, they won't even show UP on the Neilsen ratings.

I do it, in addition to the reasons given a moment ago, to provide a service. Were I providing this service to a studio, or as a consultant on another project, it would cost them a couple thousand bucks a week. I do all this without asking for money, or gifts, or even respect (he said with a glance to the people riffling their papers in the back of the room and tossing spitballs). I have only ever asked for *one thing* in exchange for this service: no story ideas.

And I honestly don't think that's a terribly high price for the hours and days I spend here when I should be writing, or trying to relax a bit, or maybe going out to dinner once in a while. I'm chained to the keyboard when I write scripts; and then volunteer to stay up here, until 2 or 3 or even 4 a.m., dead-tired, answering one more ATT: JMS note, because I think maybe, just maybe, it's important, and right, and honorable, and respectful. I don't think most folks understand what this takes out of me on a daily basis. And I suppose they shouldn't have to. It's not their problem. It's my choice. I don't even like bringing it up, because it sounds self-serving. But with all this going on, I figured maybe it SHOULD get mentioned. Because it's the truth.

Anyway, enough. It's now 2:03 a.m., and I have 248 Internet messages in my mailbox to get through before I crash tonight. jms [2]

An Addendum

A short time later, JMS included:

Only because I'm an idiot, and I forgot, and I thought it was implicit in the message I wrote, but sometimes implicit isn't sufficiently clear (certainly not when I'm behind the keyboard)....

The other aspect is that you're all (well, mostly) a bunch of cuties.

Occasional nincompoops notwithstanding...I see more well-considered, substantive, bright and funny comments here than I can count. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't sit here and perk up at a particularly insightful message, or laugh at the latest Top Ten or whatever. The majority of messages here are nothing less than terrific, and I hope that that implication was clear enough in my message(s); if not, take it from this one.

As for the few weasels...my spousal overunit has a great saying: "Don't fight the rabbits; the lions'll get you." [3]