When I read the “Bonfire of the Digital Vanities” discussion at http://community.livejournal.com/fanficrants/3651014.html I realized how utterly out of touch I am with some current ideas in fandom.
Until I read this post – and, most particularly, the responses – I’d assumed that the reason fic disappeared from the net was because the author didn’t want to maintain her websites any longer. I had only the vaguest idea that people were deliberately removing their stories from archives, as well.
Some background: In the late 90s, every convention I attended had a “Net Vs. Zine” panel. (I’ve been a zine editor since the 1970s). Sometimes these panels could get quite vociferous. Every net fan who spoke up at those panels (or to me, in private conversations) said that the reason they posted their fic to the net instead of submitting stories to fanzines was that paper was ephemeral but the net granted their work permanence and immortality. That, no matter what happened to the author personally, her fiction would live on forever in byte form.
I had so internalized this POV that it truly never occured to me, until reading this discussion, that the currents and the cultural changes of fandom have obviously negated this reason – at least for some authors. (And I have to keep reminding myself that there has never been any human endeavor in which there is 100%, or 90%, or often even 50% consensus). (And I wonder if those late 90s net authors, assuming they’re still in fandom, feel the same way about this issue now.)
I was thinking for half a second that maybe my brain was stuck in 1999, until I recalled I’d heard this same argument – that the internet makes fanfic immortal - used extensively on some mailing lists I'm on within the last couple of years.
I’ve obviously been missing out on the other half of this issue.
I have been griping to my friends for a couple of years now that I hate the fact that so much net fic is so ephemeral; that stories literally vanish from one day to the next. I’ve made it a habit to always copy anything that I might want to keep to my hard drive, because chances are pretty good it'll be gone the next time I go to that site.
Last summer, I was just about to leave on a 10 day trip. I knew I would have little or no net access. I was reading some list mail the night before I left. An author posted that she would be taking down her website in one week's time, and suggested anyone who wanted copies of her work go there now, because soon it would be gone forever.
Arggh! Copying her fic onto my hard drive had been on my 'to do' list for ages. There was no way I could take the time to copy her fic that night; I had too much to do.
I saved the URL to her website. When I got back from my trip, sure enough, her website was gone. (Fortunately, someone told me about The Wayback Machine, and since I still had the URL I was able to go and copy all of her fic through that resource.)
I remember, as a teen, how much I loved to browse through my town's small library. Their budget was just about zero, so they relied mainly on donations, and many of their books were decades old. I was fascinated by the old novels, in particular, books dating from the 1890s to the 1940s. It was so interesting to contemplate the lives of these authors. The Victorian writers were long since dead, but their words still had their own separate existence, their own separate life from the author.
I've had discussions with several friends over the past 2 - 3 years about how one thing has been lost in the transition of fanfic from zines to the net. If a story is zine-published, it has a life independent from its author. The copies are out there in fandom, being loaned out, or resold. They're not going to disappear if a website is taken down, or an archive vanishes.
I’m still bemused by the irony that, as I mentioned, one of the earlier pro-net-publishing arguments was that the internet offered immortality, while paper was ephemeral. From what I've seen lately, it's rather the reverse.
Three months ago I was at a convention when a woman came up to me with a copy of a fan novel I co-wrote 25 years ago. She’d recently bought a used copy, and wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed it.
I haven’t written anything in that particular fandom for at least 15 years, but here was someone just discovering something I’d written so very long ago.
I was googling awhile back - I forget what I was actually looking for - but I stumbled across a discussion on a message board for that particular fandom. People were discussing my novel. In that novel, I’d spackled a canon event, and I had also come up with an “isn’t this cool?” idea. One person was getting very heated in the discussion – she was insisting that “those ideas” came from my fan novel, and people should stop treating those ideas as if they had occurred on the original show.
I was bemused by this discussion – I had no idea I had created “fanon”. It was surprising to find that my novel had become such a part of the fandom that someone felt the need to remind people that my ideas were fanon, not canon.
I found this all very interesting, even though I feel utterly distanced from the work itself. I wrote that novel so long ago it feels like another lifetime.
Now, I think a lot of my early writing sucked, but if I had the magic ability to make my words vanish from the pages of all those old zines, would I do it? No. Whatever the quality of my work, I feel that I participated in and made a contribution to fannish culture – that all fic contributes to fannish culture and carries on our conversations – and that when fic disappears the fannish culture is diminished as well. (Quite obviously, many people’s mileage varies. And quite obviously, people have the right to do whatever they want with their work, for whatever reason.)
It’s also true that fandom is so huge and so diffuse and so balkanized that it’s virtually impossible to read everything in any of the big fandoms, even if you’re only reading one sub-category (a particular pairing, for example). It’s been awhile since I really felt like I was missing out on anything. I rely on recs from friends, for the most part, to guide me to the “good stuff”.
Well, I’m chalking this down to the, “You learn something new every day.” It just still feels odd that what I’ve assumed for years, and have been told by numerous people, was a bedrock reason for net publishing - clearly isn’t.
(I’ve also been told on occasion I have the soul of a librarian, so that is probably a big part of my mindset.)
I think this link is apropos to the subject. It’s an article from the 9-13-06 Los Angeles Times, entitled: “Unable to Repeat the Past: Storing information is easier than ever, but it's also never been so easy to lose it -- forever. We could end up with a modern history gap.”
Here's an interesting quote from the article: "Leading archivists said that the records of George W. Bush's presidency would probably be far less complete than those of Abraham Lincoln's."