Guest Post: Fresca

From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.

Fresca is a longtime fan of Star Trek (The Original Series) and a new fan of Inspector Lewis (with other stops along the fandom way). She lives in hope of a TV show with a compelling female pair of cops or colleagues, like the first six episodes of Cagney & Lacey. She is learning how to edit Wikipedia and has just started to write fanfic (specifically Lewis/Hathaway fic). She still primarily blogs on blogspot (yes, it’s kind of lonely). Her rather antique fanvids, those the copyright vampires didn’t get, are available on YouTube. The following has been edited for length.

How did you first get into fandom and fanworks?

Mr. Spock saved my life when I was a teenager. Me and just a few others, right? I turned thirteen in 1974, USA. Dark days…I turned on the TV one day after school and caught the end of a Star Trek episode. It was playing in syndication on a local station, Mondays through Thursdays at 3:30. I’d never seen the show, but I knew who Mr. Spock was. (The only American I’ve ever met who had didn’t know him was a woman who’d lived as an enclosed nun during this era.)

It wasn’t the show’s so-called optimism that helped, it was its strain of personal struggle. Even just seeing Spock on TV ads, you could tell he was having a hard time among the humans too. He became my model. I tried to hold myself at an emotional reserve like him, and while I didn’t succeed [just as well], it did help me survive the worst period in my life, if only because he brought dignity to what felt like a pathetic plight.

Something else was going on with him that energized me too. I clearly remember the zing I felt when it dawned on me that something was flickering between Spock and Captain Kirk. Something mostly smothered but…definitely sexual. That was a good side of pre-Internet culture: you discovered hidden aspects of stories like that on your own. The lack of spoilers was nice too–everything came as a surprise.

I had no idea, for instance, what was coming when I watched the slashy (no such word in 1974) “Amok Time.” When Spock breaks out in joy, seeing Kirk alive, it was a total thrilling jolt. And then you had to wait –in agonizing anticipation– until the episode re-aired to see it again. You just carried that secret thrill around in your heart, another little reason to live.

Aside from TV-watching girls I ate lunch with, I had no contact with fandom, what little there was. It’s almost hard to remember, sometimes, how hard it was to connect with strangers who shared your loves at that time. I drew pictures and wrote a couple stories about Star Trek, but I had no one to share them with. Without that, I just stopped. The Internet is such a huge spur to creativity. I eventually found a couple fanzines in a dusty sci-fi bookstore, and I answered a couple pen pals ads. One pen pal was attending conventions. I wanted to, but I never got it together to go—too shy, too poor.

How did you start making fan videos?

Imagine my surprise when I idly googled “Star Trek”: everyone was talking about Kirk and Spock’s little secret! I quickly came across the “most famous fanvid ever,” the slash vid “Closer” by killa and T. Jonesy…It took me back to the shock and awe (in the good sense) of first watching “Amok Time,” which the vid is based on.

I assumed the vidders who made “Closer” must be media professionals-––but I had to try making a vid myself. So––this was in 2008––I stayed up all one night on iMovie and made a 1-minute captioned slideshow, “Don’t Touch Jim’s Flower.” I’d lucked into a sort of golden age of vidding. It was flourishing on youTube, and every vid I uploaded that first year would get a few hundred views and a dozen comments within days. All of my vids were in that slideshow style, but they were a blast to make and led to important friendships I still have.

And then came the big wipe-out: WMG and other copyright-holders started to take down vids making fair-use (I contend) of songs. It was just a slaughter of all this creative work, done for love, and it kicked the heart out of a bunch of vidders. I haven’t really vidded since.

My most-viewed vid was the autobiographical “Star Trek, My Love”, with 16,149 views before it was taken down (oddly, only recently). That’s a relatively small number for the Internet, but to someone who grew up with no one to show her artwork to, it’s huge…A Russian fan contacted me to ask if I’d subtitle it in Russian so she could show it at the annual RusCON, in 2009.

It still chokes me up—it was like we’d brought about, for a moment, a tiny piece of the promise of Star Trek. Spock and Kirk had truly helped me figure out how to be a human among humans. I’m as proud of this as anything I’ve ever done. I’ve thought about remaking that vid, and maybe I will one day. What I can’t re-create, though, is the dozens of incredible, heartfelt comments from people who’d also been touched by Star Trek. Some of them in Russian! I wish I’d had the foresight to screencap and save them.

Anyway, I was also blogging a lot about Star Trek, which literally opened up the world to me: I met up with blogfriends to walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago; I went to Las Vegas to the big ST con; Riverside, Iowa for TrekFest; Portland, OR for Trek in the Park; and so forth, and so on. I’ve gotten into other fandoms since, but there’s nothing like your first love.

You’ve been working on editing fandom topics on Wikipedia, including information about the OTW. What led you to start?

The first thing led me to start editing fandom topics on Wikipedia was that a couple months ago, for the zillionth time, I noticed something missing from a Wikipedia entry. It just so happened, or so I thought, to be about a woman. I use Wikipedia all the time, and because I was in-between work projects (I do freelance publishing work), I decided I’d finally learn how to contribute to it.

I might have left it at that, but then I read that women make up only about 10% of the encyclopedia’s editors. Which explains why the Starsky and Hutch entry has 2,461 words on the show’s cars, and 5 words on the boys’ relationship: a quote from the ’70s calling them “French-kissing prime-time homos”. So they got those 5 right, anyway.

Wikipedia’s invitation to editors is to “Be bold.” That appealed to me, not least because it has a Star Trek ring to it. Wikipedia has a reputation of being hostile to female newcomers, but a couple of sweet and helpful Wikipedians contacted me almost immediately to offer help. (Maybe not altogether coincidentally, one is a Star Trek fan.) I decided to work specifically on underrepresented topics that were important to me.

The kind of fandom that’s important to me has always been, as OTW says, a gift economy “rooted in a primarily female culture.” It’s represented spottily on Wikipedia. OTW’s page is pretty skimpy, for instance, so I started to add to and clean up there (one negatively slanted and uncited paragraph in particular)…Recently I went to the third annual Art+Feminisim Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the library in town, and having f2f editors show me some tricks was super helpful.

I want fandom to be findable for anyone who wants it. An open and obvious door is the best way to include everyone, even though that means sometimes bad stuff comes through too. (But as the poet Audre Lord wrote, “your silence will not protect you” anyway.) Someone might find a door to fandom on Wikipedia that they wouldn’t otherwise find. That’s important to me.

What sorts of things do you want people to know about fandom?

I’m always stunned when people my age (50s) and older say things such as, “The Internet is killing reading and writing.” I don’t know what they’re looking at. I always respond, “Have you seen, like, the Justin Bieber fanfic twelve year old girls make?” I know from experience that we humans are more likely to participate––play, tell stories, compile statistics, make pictures, dress up, whatever––when we have a place where they can create and share things they love. And that’s good for the humans.

Fandom provides such a place to a whole lot of us (especially those with digital access). I’d say that’s revolutionary, maybe especially for girls and what Garrison Keillor calls shy people. I’m envious, but I’m thrilled for kids coming up with the Internet. (Of course it has its seriously ugly, scary sides, but I assure you, so did my high school.)

So what I want people to know about fandom is that it’s for you, and me, and for any- and everyone. Come and play! It’s like a sandbox where you can make friends, or you can find a corner to do your own thing by yourself, if you prefer. Make it your own, and don’t let the big boys (like WMG) push you out.

What sorts of fandom things have inspired you?

There are so many things, but I’ll say that fandom itself inspires me! I have a file in my head titled “Humanity Is Not All Bad” and within that imaginary file, a lot of the entries relate to fandom. Fandom works like the folktale Stone Soup: everyone contributes whatever they have to the pot, whether that’s an old onion or a dab of butter, or whatever, and you end up with an amazing stew. Sometimes weird, but amazing.

The very creation of Archive of Our Own is like that: fans who often didn’t even know how to code got together to make a non-commercial space to ensure kind of sharing. Wikipedia is another example. It’s a different kind of fandom–sort of a cousin to the self-expressive fanwork we have on AO3 or DeviantArt, etc. Its fans love to collect, collate, and disseminate information. It’s got its issues, sure, but the cool thing is, it seems like it shouldn’t even work, and it does.

There’s a political lesson there too—well-designed crowd-sourced democracy can work, with checks and balances in place. (Never forget those checks and balances!) Seeing fandom at work gives me hope for the world. Its downside is the same stuff we’ve always had–human nature–but its upside is something we’ve never had before–the ability to connect with strangers around the world who share our hopes and loves and interests.

Guest Post
  1. Sophie commented:

    Wonderful read, thank you! Really captures the positive passions of fandom.

    • Fresca commented:

      Thanks for commenting, Sophie. I love your hat!!!

  2. mortmere commented:

    “It still chokes me up—it was like we’d brought about, for a moment, a tiny piece of the promise of Star Trek.”

    Reading this gave me chills and watery eyes that have nothing to do with the cold I’m battling. Thank you for writing (and vidding, and friendship, and everything)! 🙂

    • Fresca commented:

      Aw, thanks, Mortmere.
      I know this post was a little nostalgic, but I’m not giving up on the dream of a hopeful future!

  3. ddip commented:

    Great essay! It reminds me of the themes in the Federalist Papers–we can make democracy work, as long as we have checks and balances. Is this the rough draft of an Introduction? 🙂

    • Fresca commented:

      An introduction to a new edition of the Federalist Papers? 🙂
      That would be fun! Anyway, yes, you make a great point–applying the wisdom of the ancestors is a good idea–people have hashed this stuff out before–and it helps to remember it could get bitter and ugly then, just like it can be now.
      I don’t think anyone has actually murdered anyone in a duel though (yet).

      • ddip commented:

        well actually Alexander Hamilton killed Aaron Burr, his dear friend and political collaborator, in a duel.

        • Fresca commented:

          Right! That’s the duel I was making a lame joke about—I don’t think anyone on the Internet has yet pulled that off…
          [Sorry. Bad joke, since lots of violence and even deaths have happened through the nets, of course.)

    • Fresca commented:

      An introduction to a new edition of the Federalist Papers? 🙂
      (Wouldn’t that be great?)

      You make a good point—people in the past have hashed through the issues we face now (how to create work by and for and with one another)–and it got bitter and ugly back then, just as it sometimes does now—though no fan has yet murdered another in a duel so far as I know.
      Thanks for writing!

      • Fresca commented:

        [whoops—posted two comments because the first one didn’t show up right away]

  4. Susan sanford commented:

    This is both thoughtful and sweet, and I can definitely relate to the teenage years and the need to be taken away from quotidian reality. Yes, there is a lot to be said for the potential of the internet to create understanding and democracy. One of the reasons I have hope for the millennials.

    • Fresca commented:

      “I have hope for the millennials.”
      Me too, Susan!
      Democracy, after all, is always attended by a lot of kerfuffle–(along with thoughtfulness and sweetness, one hopes).

  5. Rudyinparis commented:

    “I’m always stunned when people my age (50s) and older say things such as, “The Internet is killing reading and writing.” I don’t know what they’re looking at. I always respond, “Have you seen, like, the Justin Bieber fanfic twelve year old girls make?”

    So many great things here, but I loved this perhaps best of all!

    • Fresca commented:

      Thanks, RudyinParis! I’m always bowled over by the creative output of young fans online.