Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

Science Fiction, Web/Blog Tools

Subversive, life-giving fan fiction.

Read the following essay the other day on the train which seemed to link in with a number of other ongoing threads of discussion out there.

In his essay ‘Web of Babylon’* on the nature of fan fiction Kurt Lancaster ponders the nature of power relationships within publishing and the generations of new micro communities. [Fan fiction is where writers take aspects of an existing literary world – say a television show like Babylon 5 – and create a new but derivative work that expands upon the canonical literature. So you might take character behaviour demonstrated in the TV show but place it into another unvisited context.] So the original text isn’t simply produced and consumed only as directed. Rather as Lancaster notes it is transformed and transforms the readers.

‘Fandom here’, media scholar Henry Jenkins tells us, ‘becomes a participatory culture which transforms the experience of media consumption into the production of new texts, indeed of a new culture and a new community’. Fans may create new cultural texts, but they do not necessarily build a new full-sized community. In anything, what evolves out of their creative productions are micro-communities. (p.309)

Now for those who produced the original text – in the case of TV shows and films read media giants – this is not on. You lose control of the text, ideas spring up that you might be accused later of stealing, and there might be money being lost. Lancaster draws on the work of Michel de Certeau** to make this point.

Scholar Michel de Certeau has argued that ‘official’ canonical texts interpose ‘a frontier between the text and its readers that can be crossed only if one has a passport delivered by these official interpreters.’..And so, he continues, the ‘literal’, correct interpretation of texts becomes a ‘cultural weapon’ wielded by ‘an elite’ – the ‘socially authorized professionals and intellectuals’. (p.311)

For Lancaster the material media producers are these ‘elite’ and they will stop at nothing to keep control over their own creations (or appropriations – my addition) in order to maximise profits. Fandom is to be encouraged as long as it is restricted to ‘approved, official’ products to be licensed, sold and consumed.

The parallels with religious texts are also clear. Behaviour, such as the sampling and reinterpreting of the OT by NT writers, is not to be condoned. Nor is contextualising the text, or creating works of fiction using characters in the narratives in new ways. Those that control the text and it’s approved interpretation have need only for officially sanctioned derivative material. And in this case, I’m not just referring to “sacred texts”. It’s unusual for the producer of a Christian programme or materials to encourage those excited by the material to take it, remix it for the local context, add in other sources and produce a new growing micro-community. The norm seems to be: buy the books, the tapes, don’t copy the material and don’t, on pain of death, deviate from the approved delivery mechanisms.

Anyway, these sort of thoughts tied in with the following conversations.

  • The discussion on Rachel’s blog about media producers just not ‘getting it’ about how the internet and other mass communications technologies have changed how fans interact with material. The fact that they don’t have to consume as directed and do form micro-communities. See: What do fans really want?
  • Ronald Cole-Turner’s comments on networked communication subverting traditional forms of hierarchy, control and organization. See: Greenflame: Reading Ronald again
  • The ongoing Ticketek discussion (recently brought to the public eye on Front Seat). See: Half Pie: Ticketek and Half Pie: Public Relations Disaster
  • Radio NZ’s lack of a useful Internet strategy (as in one that’s consumer oriented rather than not) See: The Listener : Enz game

Next stop looking at how thinking about this makes me interested in seeing how the proposal that Tim’s talking about goes. I figure that at the moment the co-owners of the copyright of papers are fine with the fact that the odd academic or two can distribute an article or two (paper or via personal/department web site). However, I think that attempts to produce an integrated repository of such things and to allow relatively free search and download access to a lot of papers is going to challenge their (the publishers’) good will. Time will tell but it will be interesting to see.

Well, that’s quite possibly the longest blog entry for months. I’m glad I got that out of my system.

* Lancaster, Kurt. “Web of Babylon.” In Liquid Metal : The Science Fiction Film Reader, ed. Sean Redmond, 308-312. London: Wallflower, 2004.

** Michel de Certeau crops up here Emergent Kiwi : Graduation special as well as in Steve’s book The Out of Bounds Church? which I’ve just finished reading and linked in well with Lancaster’s essay.