morgandawn: (BSG Roslin wikidwitch)
[personal profile] morgandawn
I've been recently revisiting the concept of the Fourth Wall in light of ongoing fandom debates (Goodreads; Fall Out Boy to name just a few).
 
It occurred to me that fandom, like many other communities, has undergone a radical shift in response to new technologies (see this and thisboth posts by me). 
 
But first let me start with this concept: there is nothing individual fans can do about the Fall of the Fourth Wall. In fact, there is nothing that fandom can do to stop the deterioration of the Fourth Wall.  
 
So why even post?
 
Because I think that understanding the forces that are reshaping our fandom communities and understanding that these forces are also impacting other communities far outside fandom is the first step to reducing our amount of fear, uncertainty and denial. 
 
The loss of the Fourth Wall brings several consequences. Some are good, some are bad, and some are both.
 
The first consequence is Increased Visibility. For obvious reasons this is both good and bad. Increased visibility for the fan individual can be very very bad (see Outing).  Increased visibility  of fandom as a whole is a mixed thing. Why? Because it can lead to ....
 
Increased Validation/Acceptance/Legitimacy.  The more we are accepted and validated, the fewer individual fans need to worry about increased visibility (note: I saw fewer, not all because fandom is huge and spans many continents and cultures and religions and laws so the risks of visibility will never be reduced equally). The more legitimate our activities become, the more we can push back against overly restrictive copyright laws that would criminalize our fandom activities.  So these are all good things, right? Well, not always. It can be a bad thing  when fandom starts to internalize the message that we need the approval of the content creators to be accepted or to be acceptable.  (See the fabusina essay.  See also the comments in this Fanlore article.)

When we begin to redraw fandom into "good fans" who follow the rules and the etiquette and bad fans who operate outside of the "boundaries," we can end up with fandom religious wars and marginalized and ostracized communities (See RPF; Geek Hierarchy; Alpha/Beta/Omega).  

Of course, increased visibility does not necessarily mean increased acceptance.  It can also lead to everything from mocking to harassment and persecution.

Once you're on the world Internet stage for all to see, you don't get to choose how your "audience" responds.   Which leads us to the next consequence of the Falling of the Fourth Wall.
 
Increased Commercialization.  TPTB have always know that fannish activities (vids, fic, art, and conventions) have existed . Prior to the Internet, tracking and connecting up with these "unauthorized" fandom activities was difficult and often only happened when someone deliberately targeted a fan or a group of fans (Starsky & Hutch slashRat Patrol Melanie Rawn)  or when the fan activity randomly came across their path (See the Dreadnought  and Vice Line fanzines).  
 
But with the Internet, social media, search engines and algorithms, it is impossible to remain blind to the vibrant and uncontrolled world of Fandom.  So what do the content creators do when they see a group of possible consumers acting outside of the prescribed sphere?: they either shut it down or commercialize it.
 
And that is, IMHO, the bigger threat to fandom as we know it (if we define fandom as a group of enthusiasts who engage with one another as a community for fun and love and not profit).  As a group we might be able to handle the increased visibility and the pursuit of external legitimacy* - both the good and the bad parts.  But commercialization takes away our uniqueness and pushes us into well worn paths of pre-defined consumerism and social conformity. In literary terms, it robs us of our agency.  Fandom, not just media fandom but also science fiction, fantasy, anime fandom, have long been places where the "other" can find a home and turn "other" into "us." 
 
It is in this context that the OTW brings a value add to the fandom table. The OTW can help push back in an organized fashion against the criminalization  and commercialization of fannish activities. (See origins of the OTW).. They cannot speak for all of fandom,  nor do they want to. But as any underrepresented or "minority" group can attest, without some basic organization, very little  changes and you are at the mercy of those with money and power. Organized activity can also help individual  fans frame their own responses to the changes facing fandom  - to either accept the increased commercialization or to reject it.  To either be aware and mindful of the social and technological changes that are reshaping us or to keep reacting over and over with fear, uncertainty and denial.
 
And that is why I'd rather see fans talk about bigger social and technological shifts and what we can do as individuals  and communities to adapt to the changes instead of worrying about  visibility, the crumbling 4th Wall and "what is a good fan".  Because as I said above, the Internet and technological tools we are adopting are making that aspect of the discussion irrelevant.  We cannot turn back the clock on visibility, either as individuals or as a community.  We are facing a level of surveillance and visibility that no generation has faced before and it impacts us on all levels, not just fannish but also political and social.   But we may be able to lessen the impact of *commercialization* on fandom by realizing its corrosive nature to our community and talking about it.   And, as with any commercial enterprise, we can also push back by looking to our pockets books.   Because if  monetizing fandom and fandom activities does not make "them" money, they might find richer waters to over-fish. And if not, well we will always able to surf the waves even when they tell us we cannot swim in the sea.
 
*I need to write another post about how the pursuit of legitimacy can undermine a marginalized community like fandom.  Here is the short version: you can purse legitimacy/acceptance without internalizing it or using it create hierarchies of good/bad fans.  If there is one message I'd like "fandom" to embrace it is this:  

"Dear Content Creator, thank you so ever much for your approval/disapproval/love/
shock/horror/outrage/glee, but it is neither  necessary nor required. Please feel free to call at any time you wish to join our party.  Signed With Great Love, Fandom."

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-24 11:29 am (UTC)
aralias: (blogging at the end of the universe)
From: [personal profile] aralias
very interesting post! and i liked the one about technology you linked to as well. actually i liked that one even more - i feel like (without really knowing, i suppose) that i have a fairly good grasp of what is ok in fandom and what isn't (and therefore shake my head/tut when people do things that i don't consider to be ok!), and when i think about these rules i'm usually thinking about what was and wasn't ok in zine era, becuase that's where my fandom is (i.e. the past) but i don't know that much about goodreads at all, beyond the fact that i know people are posting fic there. but... it's still under your fandom name! surely that's all right - in fact, i can hardly imagine a world where you WOULDN'T want people to come back and find your fic under your fandom name, but i suppose it's about who finds it and what they might say about it to you. which links back to this post - but as you say, anyone who can google 'teen wolf fanfic' will eventually stumble across ao3.

speaking of zines, of course (another full circle link) i guess another thing about goodreads is the idea that you can negatively review things, without telling the author. which is something we didn't really have in fandom for a while on the internet, but obviously had in the age of zines, and now we've sort of got again with goodreads. (actually - i see, as i scroll down through the very extensive fanlore page, that others have said so too. good good)

i wonder if it is because you spend so much time on fanlore that your LJ posts (not a wiki) come out as three-dimensionally as this. you can't just read from top to bottom, as then you'd miss lots of other interesting things. anyway - it's all interesting. thanks for posting!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-24 01:44 pm (UTC)
adair: OTW, Chiristine of Pisan (OTW medieval woman)
From: [personal profile] adair
This is a great post;I'm glad someone like you, from the beginning of online fandom, is keeping up with the comments and discussions. You've been part of one big fandom change, and real visibility and new technology is certainly causing another. The Fourth Wall has been gone for a while, and any attempts to get it back or adhere to its rules, based on preserving the Fourth Wall, are doomed to failure.

What we wanted from that place was to be able to act as fans and writing fans without interference from people who did not understand what we were doing- to be left alone to play as we wanted. Now that is just not possible; to maintain our world is now a public issue, and fan attitudes are so often driven by approval or disapproval from the old TPTB, and by writing fans who hope to gain from fandom commercialization and try to protect their relationship with commercial sources at the expense of fandom as a whole. I've not followed much of the dissuasion or arguments around these issues but I know they are there. I think you are right that fandom has to refuse to kowtow to these notions; OTW is doing good work on the legal front and fan meta talk needs to include a response to commercial activity by some of fandom participants that lets fandom keep right on doing what it does best - reacting and adapting and reworking and commenting on human storytelling.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-24 07:59 pm (UTC)
princessofgeeks: (Default)
From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks
Thank you so much for this. Your perspective and sense of history has been invaluable to me many times.

I do worry most of all about the PTB trying to coopt fandom, which can't really succeed as a project but which can make a lot of waves, and also about fans trying to be "good fans" and seek the PTB's approval.

Most of what I like about fandom will never have the PTB's approval, so that's never been a priority for me.

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