March 23, 2015

Comedy or Public Shaming: Fan Fic Theatre

Earlier this week, I saw a post going around Tumblr talking about Chris Gore’s upcoming panel at WonderCon – in which a group of comedians would read fanfic. And fic writers were terrified.

And it’s tricky. Because I don’t blame the people who were outraged, even though the bulk of them aren’t attending WonderCon. As fanfic and fanart become more mainstream, fan creations have been used to try to paint fandom as something weird. An uncomfortable example (and the most public one) was when Caitlin Moran was moderating a Sherlock panel and had the cast read fanfic. No matter how “fandom friendly” a show can be, there’s definitely an unspoken understanding that fanart and fanfiction are creations for the fans themselves. That it’s one thing to ask an actor to autograph an artwork done of two characters in a ship in a tame pose… it’s another to try to get them to sign something graphic that might make the actor be uncomfortable.

Because let’s be honest, fandom can get a bit weird. An inside joke might spark crack!fic or weird art… and it might be hilarious to those inside the fandom. But outside the fandom, it’s just baffling and odd.

And it’s clear that when interviewers ask actors what they think of fanfic and slash pairings, they aren’t looking for endorsements. The idea is that they can get some sort of a reaction that they can turn into a sound bite. (For the most part, the Marvel Cinematic Universe cast have been pros at embracing fandom and being able to deflect those questions without belittling the fans. It’s been pretty great)

Back to Chris Gore. When people saw that he was planning on reading fanfic, geekdom assumed that like Moran, it was without permission. When in fact, according to the post he made after he and WonderCon organizers cancelled the panel, he had permission from the authors of the works – and it designed to be a fun event. Not about shaming.

It’s hard. I can understand how Chris Gore feels, but I know how fanfic writers feel, too. I’m one of them. As it is, it’s hard to explain why you write fanfic to most people (though if you’ve ever watched an episode and thought that wasn’t the way it should have gone, and that you could write a better episode, you should understand). But when non-geeky people see incidents like that, or know that Fifty Shades was a fanfic of Twilight… you get people making assumptions about the quality level, or think that it’s all about sex.

I’ve read stories that felt like alternate seasons of TV shows that paid better attention to the show’s timeline and lore than the show did. Or gave characters more depth and love than the show has. But people have the perception that it’s all weird stories and bad writing.

I hope that Chris Gore gets to have his panel at another convention. Just maybe next time, they can make it a little more clear that the works are being used with permission? While he suggested it was clear, here’s the copy for the panel description:

Fan Fic Theatre with Chris Gore
It’s comedians reading Fan Fiction! Join Chris Gore (PodCRASH, G4TV’s Attack of the Show), along with other comedians and TV personalities, who will read aloud the weirdest and wildest fan fiction found on the internet. You’ll hear stories read by performers Giselle B. (Defective Geeks Podcast), Adrianne Curry (Cosplay Queen, America’s Next Top Model) Mary Forrest (The Biloon-Forrest Project Podcast), Ivy Doomkitty (SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay, Int’l Costumer), Tommy Bechtold (ABC’s The Middle), Matt Keil (G4TV’s X-Play), Yoshi Obayashi (comedian) and more. In addition, a celebrity guest will write a piece of fan fiction based on audience suggestions that will be read aloud for the finale.

To be honest, seeing that comedians are reading the “weirdest and wildest” fanfic doesn’t exactly read as a positive event. It mostly just seems like Moran’s panel all over again. But with more overt mockery. So Chris, I’d suggest maybe “comedians celebrating Fan Fiction” instead? That one word sort of changes the whole tone.

Your thoughts?

Edit: Just as soon as I tweeted this out, I got this wonderful response from @youthinkmemad – and I think it’s a great suggestion as well.

Edit 2: If you look at the tweets I’ve received, there have been some excellent points made about Chris’s dismissive tone – painting those who complained as bullies, saying that you shouldn’t complain if you aren’t going to be at the convention.

First, complaining about a perceived issue doesn’t make you a bully. You can point out something being problematic if you aren’t attending. As it was pointed out to me, what happens in one convention can affect con culture at large. But as a whole, fanfic writers are overwhelmingly female and as I’d pointed out already mocked in media.

My goal is to show the other side of this. That these aren’t bullies, but real people who saw something that seemed like it was making a mockery (when we’ve SEEN this happen to people we care about). I just want there to be a dialogue. Not someone acting as the injured party and it being called a day. Nothing changes if that’s how things go.

I am going to be at WonderCon, so if Chris would like to talk to someone who really does understand where the complaints from… I’m open to it. I’ll be there on Saturday w/o the Kidlets, and there on Sunday with the Kidlets.

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