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Why Analyze Fanfictions through a Media Critical Lens

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Introduction

In 2000, when I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with the animes Gundam Wing and Sailor Moon. I'd jump on my parent's computer, dial into the internet, and find fan shrines with art and information on the characters, absorbing as much detail as I could. I even wrote stories about them, my first fanfictions ever. My world was changed, however, when my older sister's friend introduced me to the world of fanfiction, specifically Fanfiction.Net. I'd felt so lonely in my fannish endeavours, but Fanfiction.Net opened me up to a group of people who, like me, sought to tell their own stories through the lens of the characters. I still remember my first two fanfictions. In the first, I coped with my loneliness as a social outsider in a small town by imagining myself in the Crystal Millenium from Sailor Moon. In the second, I coped with the events of 9/11  -- events which shook my family apart as my father was stationed on the aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson, which launched the first attacks that began the war that continues to this day. Through the lens of the Gundam Pilots coming back home to their loved ones, something I dearly wished my father would one day do, I was able to process emotions that I, an eleven year old girl, had no one else to process with. Fic is such a part of my life that I often forget not everyone grew up in this world, so today I'd like to answer a question that seems to have an obvious answer to me -- why write fanfiction. Even more, why analyze fanfiction through a media critical lens?

Hi, my name is Lockea Stone and you're listening to Fanfiction Investigations, a podfic about literary analysis and transformative works.

Description

The history of fanfiction is long and well documented, with youtubers like Shipper's Guide to the Galaxy and Jill Bearup offering explanatory videos on the history, appeal, and terminology of fandom, while scholarly journals like Transformative Works and Cultures offer an avenue for analysis of fandom itself. So in the interest of not reinventing the wheel, I'll put links in the comments and let you guys do your own investigations into what fanfiction is, where it came from, and what it -- in the most broad strokes -- ultimately means. I'll even include a link to one of my favorite TED talks on Read/Write Culture, one of the best looks at fandom culture from an outsider's point of view, specifically, how modern laws have driven this culture underground and onto the internet. 

Okay, take a moment to go check out the links and get some background information, because now that we've answered the question of why people write fanfiction, we're going to dive into what this podcast aims to do.

The Limits of Current Fandom Analysis

So now that you've taken some time to learn a bit more about fandom basics, let's get into what this podcast series is all about. It's a kind of 201 level course on fandom and media analysis. I'm going to assume you have some familiarity with fanfiction and its tropes, and that you've read at least a handful of works in different fandoms. I'm going to assume you know different fandom terminology like what you'll learn from 101 level videos such as what Shipper's Guide and Jill Bearup produce or from reading scholarly articles in transformative works and culture. However, I'm less interested in the fandom itself and what the products these fans create mean in the larger context of the internet generation.

So what do I mean when I talk about fan products? I'm talking mostly about fanfiction, hence the title. It can also include fanart, vids, and other products that tell a unique story through a fannish lens. That is, it uses elements from the original fandom in its product.

Okay, so what about the internet generation? I mean the culture in which these works are produced, a female and queer dominated culture, often consisting of young people (millenials and younger) who consume the stories produced in the medium. This is a truly global culture, but for the sake of my sanity, I'll focus on the English speaking portion of the culture. Therefore, I am interested in two things -- the most popular works in any given fandom, or the tropes that are most popularly used by fandom authors. One represents what people are reading and how it reflects internal cultural values, while the other reflects what people are writing and what it says about the author's cultural values. It is the former that I'll focus more on, but both are of interest to me.

So why am I doing this? Well, first off, it's because I haven't seen anyone else do this. Second off, its because I strongly believe that fanfiction is an art and all art is deserving of analysis through a critical lens. Now when I say critical, I don't mean that I'm going to bash fanfics -- the opposite, actually -- but I do want to take some time to posit my own theories and even hear yours on why these stories are being told and what they mean in a larger context. "But it's JUST fanfiction" you might be saying. It's never just fanfiction. My opinion is that if we can be critical of shows like "Once Upon a Time" or books and musicals like "Wicked" both of which are transformative works, then why can we not be critical of fanfictions that are written just for fun?

Likewise, one cannot argue that fanfictions are worthy of respect without also acknowledging that they are worthy of criticism. However, I am not a fanfiction reviewer. I have no interest in dissecting individual fanfictions in detail to break down flaws and successes as one might do to original media, which is both art and consumer product. Rather, I am concerned with the broad strokes of fanfiction, and what they mean in a larger context of how we interact in our culture.

Conclusion

If you watched the TED talk I linked, then you'll notice that Mr. Lessig calls transformative culture "[the] literacy for this generation." Meaning millenials and younger. "This is how our kids speak. It is how our kids think." Therefore, transformative culture helps us understand ourselves and the culture around us, including our fears and anxieties. My central thesis is this podcast is that the best way to understand the millenial and younger culture that consumes transformative works, we must not look to the media mass produced but rather to the media we produce ourselves. By analyzing it, I propose we can understand more about ourselves, the way we think, our hopes, dreams, wants, and needs, and most of all who we are in a society that has displaced the vast majority of us.

Postscript

If you liked this episode, consider helping support it by reblogging, sharing, likes, kudos, and comments. If we missed something or you disagree with an argument made in this episode, let us know! There will be no response episode to this one, so the next episode we're going to be discussing "Alpha/Beta/Omega, the monster called misogyny, and anxieties about the female body." Got a topic you'd like us to investigate? Let us know! Thanks for listening.

References and Links:

Jill Bearup

https://www.youtube.com/user/SursumUrsa

Shipper's Guide to the Galaxy

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvp198WlRp6t72Rm5YXvOTw

Transformative Works and Cultures

http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc

"Laws that Choke Creativity" by Lawrence Lessig

https://www.ted.com/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity

 

Music:

Intro and Outro: "Mark of the Beatsmith" by Hy Bound

"Dawn of a New Day" by Theophany

Music from OCRemix.Org, a video game music remix community.