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11/18/2002: somewhat belated, somewhat muddled thoughts on bygone blog discussions

The downside of having a blog is of course feeling bad about not updating it, a feeling I'm already intimately familiar with from my website: I haven't updated the AU recs in over two months, and the other parts have been neglected even longer, the most extreme case being the long planned comic recs section (the one that doesn't list only female artists like my "also not updated since the last ice-age" Wimmin's Comics page), which I boldly announced as "coming soon" in 1999 with the launch of my home page, but which hasn't seen the light of day over three years later. Ehem.

Anyway, a while ago I started this post on some aspects of a then current blog discussion, but somehow I never came around to finish it, so it has been rotting on my hard disk in a pitiful partial state. I intended to write a well thought-out, structured entry, an argument with examples and all sorts of stuff, but that didn't really work out. The blog discussion in question was part of one the then on-going Smallville vaguely "BNF" threads, which caused my thoughts to go on a non-BNF tangent (well, after I finished wondering how I could have been in SV fandom for about a year now, and have still mostly missed all the fun fan feuds; might be because I've never been to the TWOP forums). Anyway, now this post is just a somewhat expanded version of my comment to this entry in Sarah T.'s blog, which is a follow-up to this earlier entry and its comments, all a reaction to this thread in käthe's LJ, though I found that thread only later. But I thought about this also during earlier discussions, specifically I mean my comment in this thread in Livia's LJ.

As I mentioned, these are all arguments which also deal with the BNF phenomenon, with status, recognition etc., but that's not really central to the point I hope to have somewhere in here (despite this being not the post I envisioned originally). I don't follow the somewhat paranoid theories that cliques of BNF in secret circles assert tremendous influence over a fandom, much less that they might do this based on some explicit agenda with the goal to limit the room for others in a fandom. (Side note: I've been previously chided in RL by people that using terms like 'paranoid', 'schizophrenic' et al. for things that are not specifically these psychological disorders was disrespectful and inaccurate for both of the 'equated' sides, but I find it hard to escape the colloquial use of these terms, though I'm aware that the exponential use of psychological terms has many hazards.) But I don't think that the argument, that everybody who has complaints with some existing infrastructure could start their own and fix whatever is their problem, so if they are serious about their criticism they should just stop being all lazy, whiny, and consumer-like and start their own, better archives, lists, boards, etc. fully covers all of the problem either.

I can't be the only one who sees a bit of a symmetry between that argument about the criticism of infrastructure and a certain kind of reply to fanfic criticism, which goes along the line of "why do you bitch about the fanfic story/genre/... X, if you don't like it, don't read it, write something better yourself or shut up, or at least give constructive improvement advice for the author. It's just a hobby, it's not as if you pay for reading it." Of course there are differences between providing infrastructure and writing fanfiction, and I agree that there are cases where complaints are just silly and potentially whiny. And I also agree that compared to many other things it's really not hard to start/change/improve infrastructure in a fandom, and I definitely don't think that owners of existing infrastructure were somehow out to sabotage/hinder new efforts. But -- just like I think that not writing fanfiction or not providing a manual to fix stuff as constructive feedback doesn't invalidate a critique of fanfiction, I think it can be equally valid to criticize infrastructure without changing it. I also think that just like not every critical review or fanfic pet peeve rant is a demand directed at the authors to change something, neither is every critical observation about a list or an archive a demand that it needs to be changed. Sometimes it is just part of a discussion about lists/archives/boards/etc. and how you'd like them to be, and I don't think that such discussions are pointless or entirely without effect, even if they don't initiate change in a specific example archive (or even have that intention) or start an alternate archive. I think discussions about archives and lists provide a background to the development of fandom infrastructure in a similar way as general fanfic discussion influences fanfic and not just specific feedback to single authors.

Also I think that especially in fandoms with established infrastructure there can be compelling reasons, beyond personal laziness or time constraints, not to start alternate parallel structures, even if the existing ones aren't perfect. (Here comes the point where I wanted to give examples of archives, also competing and successive ones, this is the part where I failed to arrange it into a compelling comprehensible post.) Anyway, I really think not working inside current structures can just as easily turn out to be damaging to the whole fandom than to be enriching, especially if it is a fairly successful parallel structure but not a replacement. For example I am really in favor of centralized, automated, searchable archives, which is why I like 852 Prospect in TS fandom, both Level Three and SSA in SV, and a number of others in other fandoms. But of those criteria "centralized" is probably most important to me, as long as the archive is basically usable with its navigation and layout. I tend to use centralized cross-fandom archives less, and single pairing fiction archives are probably my least favorites among the specialty archives (that is because I'd really like to see fanfiction overall be less narrowly focused on pairing-centered fic, which is another topic). But in some fandoms there are central archives in use which are neither automated nor searchable, and still they are established as the central archive. Of course sometimes someone starts a better archive and it turns out well (though what exactly constitutes "better" archives is a topic with less than unanimous opinions, at least I've seen newer archives which turned out to be more successful than older ones, but had even inferior usability), but just as well it can end with the fandom not having any central archive anymore, and potentially even with a lot more people who are pissed at each other, because starting the new thing was seen as sabotaging the old thing.

Raincitygirl said in her reply to my comment that often criticism of infrastructure comes across as entitlement, and that it was unlikely to change anything. But I didn't see this "sense of entitlement" in the arguments, certainly not in the post in käthe's LJ for example, and I think that is something that gets read into a simple (if subjective) description a lot, probably based on whatever previous experiences there are. I don't think every critical observation about a list or an archive is a demand directed at someone, just like pet peeve rants aren't usually directed at someone specific. And of course fanfic feedback can come across equally unpleasant (some of the "sequel! now! why don't you write a sequel?!" type of feedback comes to mind, for example).

Many seem to have a view of fannish infrastructure that comes across as a mixture of "Darwinian infrastructure competition," i.e. "survival of the fittest", with a sort of "supply and demand model", i.e. lots of new infrastructure projects are started by the discontent, where eventually the fans will congregate at the best places, leading to good infrastructure (or even the best of all possible infrastructures) in the end, as long as there are enough active fannish "entrepreneurs" willing to invest their work (and money) when they are discontent with the status-quo. And in that model it is almost pointless really to discuss anything, because it's more promising (and effective) to "compete" with a better "product." And while I see some points in this model, I don't see it as a complete explanation for how fandom infrastructure works, nor do I think that this would be the best mechanism for the development of fandom infrastructure, but maybe that's just because I'm anti-capitalist... *grin*

Posted by RatC @ 11:42 PM CET
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