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A Little Ditty About Fandom
by Rana Eros

Fandom is a meritocracy.

The merit scale isn't always yours. In fact, usually it's not.

You learn to cope. A lot of stories get recced that aren't your cup of tea at all. Authors you don't think can write a grocery list get pages and pages of feedback. Pairings you don't get are popular. Characters you loathe become fandom darlings. Your favorite authors get involved in fandoms that leave you cold. Your delete, backspace, and scroll buttons get a lot of use.

Sometimes, you get tetchy. You get tetchy enough to exclaim to your pet/SO/resident poltergeist, "What is with everyone writing all this donutfic? Don't they know ice creamfic suits the source so much better? Where's my ice creamfic? And why is everybody reccing Jane Doe? Her characterization's flat, her dialogue's clunky, and her plots are hackneyed. And she writes A/B! Those two would so not work together!" You get tetchy enough to say these things in comments and chat and maybe even make a post about them. Or someone specifically recs donutfic to you and you make a post about that. "Dear fandom, please to not be reccing me the donutfic. I'm just not interested kthxbai."

Some people will disagree with you. Some people will try to talk you into liking it. And some people will say, "Oh, me too! That's why I like Dorothy Smith instead of Jane Doe. She writes ice creamfic!" Dorothy Smith writes ice creamfic! Who is Dorothy Smith? So you ask for a link and you go read Dorothy's stuff and see it's cross-posted to an entire comm devoted to ice creamfic. And you leave Dorothy feedback about her story and she says, "Yeah, I wrote that for last year's ice creamfic challenge and finally got around to posting it here." An ice creamfic challenge! Is there one this year? "Oh, yeah, it's an annual thing. Susan Jones mods it." And you get a URL and Susan's LJ handle and off you go to friend her and check out her friends, and you find an entire community of cool fans who dig the ice creamfic.

Encouraged by group support, you try your own hand at ice creamfic. People like it. They leave you feedback. You write more, and get more feedback. You post, "Squee, ice creamfic!" and other people post back, "Word!" You realize six months have passed since you first lamented about donutfic and now you hardly see any donutfic because you're in a community of ice creamficcers, and you love it. Fandom's a great place!

Or you don't learn to cope. You sit and seethe as Jane Doe gets feedback, as donutfic gets recced, as all the meta circles around A/B and what a great couple they are. You get tetchy. You gripe about character X and the people who love him in chat, comments, maybe even a post. People disagree with you. People try to get you to like the character. And some people say, "Me too! That's why I like Dorothy Smith's work. She doesn't like character X, so she doesn't write him." "Yeah," you say, "that character X just sucks, and anybody who likes him clearly has no taste." "That's a little harsh," says the fan who mentioned Dorothy Smith, and away she goes.

In the meantime, people are still loving on character X and Jane Doe, who writes him in donutfic. It's driving you crazy. You want to say, "Jane Doe isn't all that," but you worry, because where you're sitting, Jane Doe seems to have control of the fandom. I mean, everybody is writing/reading/reccing donutfic and character X, and Jane Doe is the most popular one of all, so it must be she's in charge. Therefore, taking her down a few notches will be sure to make people wake up and realize character X and donutfic are just not that cool.

So you get this idea, and you post, "Somebody in this fandom isn't half the writer she thinks she is, and people who like her stuff are just suckups." There, now you've got people wondering without attacking Jane Doe directly. And people might guess it's Jane Doe, because you're known to not like the type of fic she writes or her favorite character, but nobody can defend her or themselves, because it's not like you said who it was, right? In fact, you have Jane Doe on your friendslist, and you may not comment to her fic, but you're always nice when you comment to her other posts (because hey, she's the BNF and you have to pretend to like her so nobody ostracizes you). Of course, that doesn't stop people from connecting certain of the dots. That doesn't stop people from accusing you of being passive-aggressive, or defriending you, or griping about you in turn. And boy, isn't that just proof you were right? Jane Doe and her minions don't even know for sure it's her you were talking about, and here they are oppressing you!

Even people you thought were okay say, "Hey, what's with the cryptic bashing? Own your opinions, dude," so clearly they're minions too. And everybody's still reading and reccing donutfic and loving on character X, so clearly nobody cares what you think. They just want to stay on Jane Doe's good side. So you post a few more times about how you hate character X and donutfic, and people comment with, "There's an entire comm of ice creamfic, here's the URL." But it's not about ice creamfic anymore. It's about making that Jane Doe pay for ruining your fandom experience.

Then you find an anonymous hate meme, and it's perfect for your purposes. Now you can show that Jane Doe without fear her minions will all jump on you! And yeah, it won't change what she writes, and it won't get you more of what you like, but you're pretty sure Jane or one of her minions will read it, and it'll probably hurt her feelings, and oh! She posted her real name in a locked entry! You could repost that in the hate meme. She might have to delete her LJ, which means she won't write anymore. No more donutfic about character X from Jane Doe!

And she does delete her LJ, and yeah, her minions figured out it was you and you had to delete your own LJ, but at least you got the satisfaction of running her off. So you create a new username, follow up those links pointing to ice creamfic, and prepare to finally enjoy fandom.

Except somebody finds out it's you, and they know what you did in that hate meme, so even people who write ice creamfic and don't like character X aren't exactly welcoming, and you hear that Jane Doe has also created a new, locked LJ, and people still love her fic, and donutfic and character X are still popular in that segment of the fandom. So, six months later, you have a bad rep in the fandom and Jane is still loved and even people who don't like her won't friend you, so when the next hate meme comes along, boy, have you got a lot to say about that Jane Doe and the way she's ruined fandom for you. Fandom sucks!

So does fandom suck or is it great? The answer is yes. What you get out of fandom depends on what you put into it. Because fandom is a meritocracy, and the merit scale isn't always yours, and usually it isn't, but there are certain constants. If you contribute a lot, you're going to get more interaction than if you lurk. If you write a character or pairing and pimp it, eventually you're going to find at least one other person who digs it. If you're open, honest, and diplomatic with your opinions, most people are going to be more open, honest, and diplomatic in return. Don't base your fandom interaction on fear of the crazies; that's a surefire way to become one yourself.

You've probably figured out by now (though you should already know this if you read this LJ with any regularity) that my approach to fandom is one of do it yourself enlightened self-interest. If you notice a vacuum, fill it. Want ice creamfic? Write it! Can't write it? Meta it! Can't meta? Run an ice creamfic challenge! Ask for ice creamfic recs! Then read those recs, and leave feedback on the stories you like. Many, many authors are far more inclined to keep writing the types of stories that get them feedback. Which means, after you leave feedback, rec the stories yourself. Spread the word. Make yourself a fannish hub for the types of things you like by looking for them, spotlighting them, generating them. In fandom as it is in life, be the change you want to see.

And always, always remember, fandom is also an anarchy. Ain't nobody in charge. Ain't nothing says you have to hang out with Jane Doe and her fans if their style's just not doing it for you. Ask for recs for ice creamfic, and go hang out with those people. Leave Jane and those who like it to their donutfic with character X. You've got too much ice cream work to do to be wasting energy on resenting them

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