azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 09:01pm on 13/08/2007 under ,
Over on [livejournal.com profile] muncle, [livejournal.com profile] sithdragn asked "What are your bullet-proof weak spots in MFU fiction? Those things --be they situations, characterizations, sexual situations, anything-- that appeal to you so much that you'll try just about any story to see them?" And my first reaction was "She means kinks! I don't have any kinks!" But then, as I was writing a comment, I realised that in fact I do, and then my comment got too long so I'm posting it here instead.


When following fandom discussions, or reading certain types of fic, I quite often get the feeling that I'm suffering from a kind of virtual Asperger's syndrome. I simply don't get shipping. I don't grok it, I don't grasp it. I can bandy around terms like OTP and Spuffy with the best of them, but at some level I don't really know what I'm talking about because I have never ever experienced whatever it is that “shipping” refers to. I honestly do not care if Buffy ends up with Angel or Spike, or the Immortal, or Xander, or an OC – I like Spike a lot more than Angel as a character, certainly, and I adored watching the train wreck that was canon Spuffy, but that doesn't mean I feel any desire to see that story continued (or not continued – if someone writes a good story that continues the relationship, then cool, I'll read it. If they write a good story where Buffy ends up with Angel instead, then cool, I'll read it.) For me, liking Spike has nothing to do with who he gets paired with. Nor do I care who ends up with anybody in any of my fandoms, I just don't. In fact, in fandoms where there are no canonical pairings, I infinitely prefer not to have them imposed in fanfic (which isn't to say that there aren't plenty of stories where the fic is so good I'll put up with the pairing, but I'd personally be very much happier if the writers left that bit out).

But it's worse than this. Not only do I not really know what it means to “ship” a pairing, I'm also not very interested in sex between characters. I don't mind if it's going on the background, but I get bored if its the whole point of a story. And I skip over passages of explicit sex, because it doesn't turn me on, and sex when you're not turned on is a rather yucky experience (as I tell my kids when they ask me why grown-ups like to have sex, they'll understand when they've got the hormones and till that happens I can't explain it to them). So while I think I get the meaning of “squick” (because I'm pretty sure it's how I feel when I get to the NC17 bit of a story, or when one character refers to another as his/her “lover”, or when a story gets shmoopy) up till now I didn't know what a kink was. I knew it was something that reaches down inside a reader's gut and makes them go “Guh!” no matter how badly the story it was in was written; that it somehow lights up the pleasure centre in the brain without having to go via the normal route of being really well done; but I'd never actually felt it.

Until I watched Season 2 of Slings and Arrows. And I suddenly realised that I have the most terrific kink, it's just that it doesn't crop up very often, so I'd overlooked it. It turns out that I have a kink for antagonist characters who suddenly do the right thing without then turning all nice and coming over to the side of good . Evil characters who stay evil, and yet briefly find their values bring them onto the side of the hero, those are the ones who do it for me. In S&A it is Brian, the ghastly old actor who Geoffrey sacks, and who is malicious and malevolent and yet, when he hears about Geoffrey's idea that Macbeth should appear naked says “But that's a very interesting idea”. He can't stand Geoffrey, he has every reason to hate him, he's bitter and he's nasty, and yet at that moment he stays true to his artistic values even though that means supporting Geoffrey. It was when I caught myself hoping that Brian would be the one to play King Lear in Season 3 that I realised there was something slightly funny going on – why was I suddenly so interested in him?


Then there's Snape. I'm really not a Harry Potter fan. I've read the books, but I found them to be in general very tedious, way too long, very self-indulgent, and clumsily written. And yet, and yet, that one moment in Book 1 when Harry discovers that Snape was NOT trying to knock him off his broom but to protect him – that was enough to keep me reading just to see what was going to become of this nasty, greasy, bitter bloke who nonetheless tried to protect a boy he hated from his enemies.

Then there's an episode in The Man from UNCLE where the agents try to persuade a cowardly conman, whom Thrush has mistaken for a scientist, to work for them. Buzz refuses. He spends much of the episode on the run from both UNCLE and Thrush, trying to outwit both sides, and he won't be persuaded by any of the agents' moral arguments that it's for the sake of saving the world etc etc All he wants to do is look out for number one. And yet, at the climax of the episode, when the baddies threaten to kill Illya if Buzz doesn't cooperate, he does what they want rather than escape, because selfish though he is, he's too much of a decent man to allow someone else to die. That's the sum total of his reform – he remains a conman to the end, but just for a moment his values coincide with those of the good guys and he finds himself, however reluctantly, on their side.

Given this, I suppose it's no surprise that Blake's 7 was such a huge factor in my fannish development, because Avon hits that kink with a sledgehammer. He's nasty, he's selfish, he's cynical in the worst way, he has no truck with the revolution, and yet he repeatedly finds himself acting heroically against his own better judgment. And it's no wonder that I like the much maligned Season 4, where many fans are of the opinion that Avon was going insane because his nastiness was so over-developed compared with earlier seasons. I was delighted that Blake was gone because it gave Avon more screen time, and as far as I was concerned, the worst he behaved most of the time, the more thrilling it was when in defiance of all rationality he did something ridiculously brave or clever to help someone else.

Perhaps kink is the wrong word, given that this response, however visceral, isn't really an id thing. It's more a kind of button pushing. I have another button, which gets pushed much more frequently, and like real kinks it works no matter how sentimental the story or how badly written the context in which it occurs. I always, always cry when a character speaks to a character they have loved knowing they're dead and cannot really hear them. I have a heart of stone most of the time, but I sobbed my little eyes out when Wesley asked Illyria to be Fred for him as he lay dying (and believe me, I do not ship Fred/Wesley); I wept buckets at the end of The Amber Spyglass, when Lyra and Will agree to go to the bench at the botanic gardens in Oxford every year so that, in their separate universes, they will know that the other one is there; I cannot read Kipling's There is a Road Through Merrow Down (which is about trying to catch up with his adored daughter who died when she was six) without weeping uncontrollably. And so on and so forth. It really doesn't matter who it is or what the circumstances are, it just kills me. Every single time. (Also, I cannot listen to Puff the Magic Dragon without crying, but that's a special case, since no-one actually dies. Except maybe Puff, since all his scales fall off. Sniff!)
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 05:08pm on 11/07/2007 under ,
A few weeks ago most of my flist was in a minor tizzy about whether the S8 Buffy comics count as canon or not; and now there's a post on metafandom about appreciation versus appropriation of canon, and I suppose I should be interested in the Is It canon question but frankly, like Spike, I'm paralysed with not caring very much. The honest truth is, I don't think there's any such thing as canon. “Oh, but there's the text!” I hear you cry. Yes, indeed, but the text in itself, the text qua text, is really only of interest to specialists. You don't get many people writing posts that say "It's canon that the third word on the first line of the 13th page is 'and'," or "It's canon that the scene where Jack fights Will is dimly lit and uses lots of low camera angles." What interests Jill Average reader/listener/viewer is the content of the text; and really, all the interesting stuff in the contents is stuff we work out for ourselves. The least interesting part of any story is what we are told explicitly. What fascinates us is the things we find when we dig beneath the surface. And this part of the story is told not , or not just, by having the narrator say straight out "Dumbledore was a great wizard and a good man" but by things like the use of imagery (he looks like Father Christmas, his eyes "twinkle"), apparently irrelevant character quirks (he likes sweets), things he says (he's nice to Harry), the similarity to widely familiar tropes (the wise old mentor) etc etc. In a really well told story there are layers and layers of these things, all interconnected, all multifunctional, so once you start to dig you can uncover a wealth of information that supports or contradicts your interpretation, but it isn't canon in the way that fandom uses the term, it isn't some kind of Authorised Version with an explicit seal of approval from TPTB. And sometimes people don't like what they find in the text, so they scratch around collecting together all the tiny pieces of evidence that let them build an alternative reading. And they may end up feeling rather beleaguered because the bulk of the text doesn't support that interpretation.

And there's almost no part of a "text" that doesn't demand interpretation to get to the interesting stuff. It may be canon that once Spike gets together with Buffy he stops wearing black nail polish, and once he starts working with Angel he stops smoking, but what does that mean? As Darwin said, any fact is of interest only insofar as it speaks for or against some theory (all right, so he actually said "all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service," but you get my point). As for dialogue, we all know perfectly well that you don't have to mean what you say or say what you mean. If I say "It's cold in here," I could be intending to convey anything from "Shut the window" to "You're right, I should have worn a jumper" to "I say, what's with the frigid atmosphere in here, chaps?" So sure, the shooting script may say "I love you," the actor may say "I love you," but that doesn't mean we understand the proposition and only the proposition "There is a person X, whom I love, and X = you." In fact, any actor worth his salt will pack a line of dialogue like that with significantly more layers of meaning than just the proposition it expresses, because otherwise it's really kinda dull.

There's a bit of an irony here in that when it comes to writing fic I'm what is often referred to (for etymological reasons I can't begin to fathom) as a “canon whore”. I get a huge kick out of writing within the constraints imposed by every tiny detail of the text, and inventing minimal background information that isn't in the text. Except, of course, when I don't want to, and then I just ignore the bits of canon that get in the way of what interests me. But it's a formal decision, just as choosing to write a sonnet rather than free verse is a formal decision. It doesn't mean the sonnet is better.

What I really think is that what we call canon would sound much less imposing and High Church if we just thought of it as “source materials”. It's stuff you can choose to use in writing your story or to disregard. Maybe all you take from the source materials is the physical appearance of the actors. Maybe you change even that and make them prettier and cooler and more graceful than they are in the source materials. Maybe you really liked the way Spike was compared to a cat in that werepussy fic you read last week, so you use that. Source material. Buffy Season 8? Source material. Some people like it, some don't, doesn't matter. Other people's fanfic? Source material. Most people don't make much use of this, or the readers haven't come across the source and so don't recognise that it's intertextual, but it does get used, just like “canon”.

My point is that once we have an interpretation, we pick and choose bits of the source materials to support our interpretation, and we ascribe greater significance to the things that validate our view. Canon, in other words, is what we like.
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 11:14am on 14/04/2007 under ,
This arises from a discussion over on [livejournal.com profile] liviapenn's journal and continued on [livejournal.com profile] alixtii's. In the interests of full disclosure, I shall reveal that it is based on a theory from cognitive psychology called Prototype Theory, which argues that most categories are non-essentialist (ie. there is not a list of necessary and sufficient characteristics that will separate all and only members of the category from everything else in the world). Categories have fuzzy boundaries (ie. it’s not clear where some things stop being members of the category and start becoming something else) and are organised around “best examples” (known as prototypes, hence the name of the theory). The basic idea is thus that central members of a category exhibit a set of characteristics that everyone agrees are typical for a member of that category (so birds, for instance, have feathers, fly, sing, lay eggs, and are small enough to fit in your hand), whereas less central category members lack some of these characteristics (penguins and emus don’t fly, emus and turkeys don’t fit in the palm of your hand, ducks don’t sing – but they’re all still birds). In fact, less central members may have no characteristics in common with each other at all, but will still share some characteristics with prototypical members. Prototype theory arises from Wittgenstein’s theory of categorisation as a matter of “family resemblances” as alluded to by [livejournal.com profile] alixtii, in which members of a family as a whole have physical features in common, but individual members of the family may not. So Uncle Fred has blue eyes, blond hair and pigeon toes; I have pigeon toes and red hair and green eyes, and my sister has red hair, green eyes and perfect feet. She shares no single identifying characteristic with Uncle Fred, but both of them share characteristics with me, and within the family as a whole both red and blond hair, green and blue eyes, and pigeon toes are common, but the distribution within individuals differs). One of the linguistic tests for whether something is a central category member or more of a marginal member is how far it is substitutable for the superordinate term. Thus in the sentence “Twenty or so birds twitter on the telegraph poles outside my window every morning” the words “robins, thrushes, sparrows” can be substitued for “birds”, but “duck, turkey, eagle, penguin” can’t (or at least not without causing surprise). And so it is with fanfic. I would argue that there is a list of prototypical characteristics that central members of the category “fanfic” display, such that everyone would recognise them as fanfic. And I suspect the “conceptual analysis” discussion is more about people proposing central characteristics than saying this particular characteristic alone is sufficient and necessary to define fanfic. So what might these central characteristics be? I propose the following list, which is emphatically not given in order of significance ( and always bearing in mind that less central examples of “fanfic” may exhibit no more than one of these characteristics):


1. It is not written for publication
2. It is derivative
3. It is about a media product
4. It is a written text
5. It explores emotional/sexual relationships in greater depth than in the original source
6. It hits a kink
7. It utilises certain tropes (hurt/comfort, cavefic, aliens made us do it, soulmates)
8. It utilises certain stylistic features (this one is bound to be controversial, but it’s not difficult to come up with a list of classic fanfic stylistic features, such as the use of epithets, which explains why it’s possible to say that The Da Vinci Code “reads like fanfic”)
9. It is written by fans for other fans (if it is drawerfic, the imaginary readership is still fans of the source and not general readers)
10. It is character-centric



If we look at the outliers, we see that R&G [ETA: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead]is a derivative written text about a media product while anthropomorfics are not written for publication and utilise certain recognisably fanifccish tropes (actually, it would be possible to argue that anthropomorfics are pastiches of fanfic in general, or that their source text is fanfic as a whole, but I digress). Note that there is an overlap with things like fanvids, which brush the very edges of the category (they’re not written, but they have a number of other characteristics in common with fanfic), which leads us into the theoretical waters of semantics. The salience of the central characteristics is affected by what other categories you are contrasting things with – “written” becomes most salient when contrasting fanvids with fanfic, “not for publication” when considering media tie-ins, “by fans for fans” when considering R&G. In fact, as [livejournal.com profile] sallymn pointed out, any film or TV (or radio) adaptation is derivative and therefore doesn’t contrast with fanfic on this dimension; and the same is true of a remake of a film or a TV series. If “derivative” is taken as the sole defining criterion of fanfic, then all these things have to be included; only by considering other typical features of fanfic can we consider the ways in which such things are not like fanfic.
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 11:06am on 12/08/2005 under
Reading through some of the entries (and comments to those entries)on metafandom, I can't avoid the impression that the reason why *so* many people are *so* pissed off with cousinjean is because at some deep level they feel she's claiming she's better than they are - because she thinks her fanfic is so good that people will actually pay her lots of money to write it. I guess most people who spend a lot of time writing fanfic have a little fantasy about being able to do it full time, and when someone comes along and thinks they're good enough to put that into practice it triggers a furious response. I can't otherwise explain why so many people accuse her of feeling "entitled" (which is stupid psychobabble word that as far as I can tell from my exposure to it on TWoP means "thinks she's better than anyone else") or why they state over and over again, in various different formulations, that "We'd all like to be paid for writing fanfic, but the real world isn't like that".

My own reaction, when I first read cousinjean's proposal, was that she was making a mistake in thinking that adoring feedback can be translated into cold hard cash. It's easy to send off a squeeing comment saying "You are the best author in the world", but it doesn't mean the sender would actually *pay* to read that story. Nor, come to that, does loads of positive feedback mean that the story is actually, artistically speaking*, very good - just that it very effectively presses a lot of people's shipper buttons. You only have to look at what happens when a popular author decides to try her hand at an unpopular or rare pairing to see how true this is - the quantity and squee-factor of the feedback always drops dramatically. So I was certain that cousinjean had fallen into the trap of overrating the value of her "product" because of the lj culture of positive feedback. And I'm not sure it wasn't the fact that her Modest Proposal revealed that she rated her own work so highly that pissed other authors off so very mightily.

*I'm not using the word "artistically" in a cavalier fashion - I've been giving a lot of thought to what makes something good art - as opposed to merely being the product of artistic endeavour - and how fanfic fits in.

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