Forgive me if this is all a little disjointed, but I’m kind of writing things down as they occur to me. Also, since I’m a writer, I’m going to focus on writing, but I bet a lot of what I say is true for stories is also true for art.
Since the colossal Sherlock fanfic dick move, I’ve been thinking about fanfic, and talking with some people who still actively fic. (Yes, to fic is a verb. Now you know.) To go with the utter rage at what a colossal dick Caitlin Moran was, there’s been this general embarrassed recoil among fic writers. It’s a thing of sheer horror, thinking something like that could happen to one of our little stories, like AO3 is a rock that could be overturned at any moment and we’re worried we can’t scurry away fast enough.
But why is that? Why are we embarrassed about our fanfiction?
This is the thing: I don’t think we actually are.
If you were actually, actively embarrassed about a story (or any piece of art you created), you wouldn’t show it to anyone, would you? No. I imagine a lot of people are probably like me, with half-finished (or fully finished but hideous) stories that just don’t work stashed in a padlocked trunk in the attic where they can’t hurt anyone.
But if you get your story to the point where you’re willing to put it out in the light of day where people can actually see it? You must think there’s something worthwhile there to be shared. Sure, maybe it’s imperfect, or you’re frustrated and want feedback, or a lot of other reasons. But the basic idea still holds: if you’re letting other people look at it, there is some kind of marrow to your story that you think is good. In which you believe. In which you feel pride. Even if it’s a story that has you throwing your keyboard at the wall because it just won’t fucking work, you wouldn’t be putting it out there for critique if you didn’t think it had a heart worth saving.
You don’t put fanfiction on the internet because you’re embarrassed about it.
So next question: why do other people make us feel embarrassed about our fanfiction?
Except I don’t think that’s even the right question. Because if you knew for a fact that a non-fan, when told about your fanfiction, would at worst just shrug it off, say that’s a cool hobby let me tell you about my fantasy football team, or ask you if that’s a thing you can do to make money (No.) then you wouldn’t ever feel embarrassed about it. There wouldn’t be a reason for embarrassment, because it’s just another hobby.
I think this is the real question: why do other people want us to feel embarrassed about our fanfiction?
Because they’re assholes.
Or maybe that’s too easy. Even if they are assholes, that doesn’t really say anything about the source of this dickish mode of behavior.
Embarrassment comes from shame. Shame comes from the fear of other people thinking your behavior is wrong or foolish.
Okay, so what’s wrong or foolish about fanfiction? Nothing empirically. You’re not making money off of someone else’s intellectual property. It’s sure not any more foolish than a whole host of other hobbies I could name, like say paying a bunch of money to go sit in a cold stadium and watch men in tight pants run up and down a field chasing a ball.
I can see a lot of factors in this.
Maybe it’s that poisonous idea that liking things unironically is somehow mortally uncool. Well, fuck being cool anyway. If people who pull shit like Caitlin Moran and Alan Carr are the cool kids, thanks, I’ll take my tray and go sit with the M:tG nerds again. I don’t find the practice of cultural cannibalism at all satisfying.
Maybe it’s being enthusiastic about things that aren’t mainstream. Like, it’s totally fine to go to football games and paint your face and chest, or have a fantasy football team, but god help us if we’re making shit up about anything that’s not sports. Probably worth noting here that stuff stereotypically liked by guys is generally viewed as cooler than stuff stereotypically liked by girls.
Maybe it’s the writing thing, though I can already put paid to that notion because people generally think it’s mega cool if you’re writing original fiction. But then again, that means you get the stamp of some kind of cultural approval because hey, someone gave you money for your words. That must mean it’s okay. (Unless it’s romance. But we’ll get to that later.)
So then maybe it’s the fact that you’re writing stories for free about someone else’s characters? Frankly, anyone who likes any of the plethora of Sherlock Holmes-sourced shows and movies doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to that. And so on and so forth. Anyone who has ever come out of a movie and said, Yeah that was cool but they really should have done X/Y/Z, write it down and congratulations you just did fanfic now shut the fuck up.
Maybe it’s the porn thing? Ah, well, there is that. We live in a country where for entertainment, graphic torture is a-okay for pretty wide consumption and consensual cunnilingus is just way too shocking. And we’ve all read stories about a teacher (almost always female) who moonlights as a romance or erotica writer getting fired because some parents found out her dirty little secret. Funny thing is, you don’t get fired if you write mainstream literary fiction, hard crime, or even scifi/fantasy.
I don’t think that point should make us feel embarrassed. It should make us angry. The puritanical (and often hypocritical) attitude about sex isn’t something that deserves to be fed with our embarrassment. And in this case, the people who should really feel ashamed are the ones who dump porn in the lap of a person who did not consent to it. Because as I said on Monday, that is never okay.
Maybe it’s because fanfiction is dominated by women, and it’s always fun to take a steaming shit on anything women do creatively? Wish I could say I didn’t think this was a factor, but considering the last several sexism shit storms I’ve witnessed as a writer of original sf/f, this one deserves to be pinned on the board. It’s kind of fascinating to see on one side, DC Comics basically cancelling a show for being too popular with girls, and on the other Alan Carr showing Tom Hiddleston porny Loki fanart like it’s the fucking Ark of the Covenant and he’s expecting faces to melt. (And by the way, you are never getting a movie about Wonder Woman or Black Widow.) Yes, women are taking an interest in fandoms that were originally aimed more at men, and we’re doing it in the ways we always have, and maybe some people find that shocking? (God, why can’t you people just shut the fuck up and buy action figures.)
Maybe it’s because the world is full of assholes who just want to return to the natural order of tearing up the nerd’s notebook of carefully plotted dungeon crawls and feeling good about themselves. (Though considering some of the people doing this crap are pretty damn nerdy themselves, one does wonder.)
Whatever the reason, hey, don’t be a dick. That shouldn’t be such a difficult idea to grasp.
Weirdly, this entire question of embarrassment, makes me think about my niece. Stick with me here. I love my niece to bits. She’s young, and inquisitive, and still at the stage where she’s scribbling pictures on pieces of scrap paper and giving them to everyone as gifts, telling you proudly that the figure on the paper (almost unrecognizable as human) is you. She is happy with the art she’s made, and proud of it. And because she’s happy with it and proud of it, I’ve taken the marker squiggle masterpieces home and given them a place of honor on my refrigerator, as I was told to do by my Evil Auntie’s Handbook.
In our childhood, we are all artists, and we all know the joy of creation.
I remember being like that. I remember writing stories as soon as I could form letters with a pencil, and proudly showing them to anyone who couldn’t run faster than me. (I was a chubby kid. I wasn’t hard to outrun.) I bet you were like that too. At some point, we all take a hit to that enthusiasm to share.
When it’s because we’ve gained enough experience to realize that not every piece of art we make is a masterpiece, that’s called learning the craft. That’s called self-editing and growing and improving. And that’s good, so long as we never hit a point where our internal editor becomes so megalomaniacal that he keeps us from letting our art see the light of day.
But there’s another reason people stop creating and sharing. And it’s because some asshole out there (or many assholes) said that what we’re creating is bad, and stupid, and we should be ashamed of it. And then instead of finding the good heart of what we make and believing in it, we only believe that other people will laugh at us. All art is in some way taking a piece of yourself, some feeling or experience or idea, and making it manifest. No one wants to feel like what comes from inside them deserves shame.
That’s what bothers me the most, about these assholes out there trying to shame fanwriters and artists. Creativity is a muscle that requires exercise to be healthy and strong. Art needs oxygen and sunlight to grow, like most other living things. And everyone, everyone in the goddamn world who has ever made art, has an endless learning curve they have to travel.
You know what I’d call someone who shoves an artist off the learning curve just for a nasty chuckle? A bully. And someone who tries to make an artist feel small for having the cojones to rip out a little piece of their heart and say I made this myself and I’m proud of it? A mean-spirited coward.
Fuck ’em. They don’t deserve any more of my words.
Never stop creating, darlings. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Believe in your art and grow.