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."

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