It’s been quite a year for fandom in the mainstream. Since last March’s membership drive we’ve seen a cover story in Time magazine on Harry Potter fandom and international news coverage of 50 Shades of Grey, the Twilight fanfic turned bestselling original novel.
The news coverage of the 50 Shades phenomenon has drawn considerable attention to fandom and fanfic — not all of it necessarily good. Even as we in fandom are witnessing the emergence of new, more positive attitudes towards fandom and its place in mainstream culture, we’re still seeing old questions, assumptions, and misunderstandings appearing in the media — for example, this article in The Guardian on 50 Shades that describes the novel’s origins as “online slash/fic (fan-published erotic writing at the creepier end of the internet).” The New Yorker‘s Elizabeth Minkel recently asked, “Why, when discussing fan fiction, do journalists often sound like anthropologists discovering some long-lost tribe — and a somewhat unsavory and oversexed one at that?”
When fandom voices get left out of the conversation, often what results is something like Dear Author’s recent assay at connecting slash fiction to m/m romance using two panelists who neither read slash nor enjoyed fanfiction. The end result is often confusing to non-members of fandom and unsatisfying to members of fandom. What’s more, many of us in fandom know that what manifests as mere factual inaccuracy or stereotyping of fans and their “creepy” online activities can turn into censorship, ostracism, and more, such as the recent arrests and even jailing of manga fans for violating obscenity laws.
Fans know all too well that if we don’t speak up for ourselves, the media, TPTB, and even the law can speak for us and define us. The OTW’s function as a liaison to mainstream media continues to be important because it gives fans the opportunity to speak for ourselves, to have a voice in the face of misrepresentation. For example, Lev Grossman turned to the OTW to put him in touch with fans when writing his Time article, which many feel is one of the most positive representations of fandom we’ve seen yet.
The OTW is committed to ensuring that the mainstream media hears fannish voices from all walks of life and all kinds of fandoms. But we can’t do that without having a strong fanbase of our own. Without first hearing from you, we can’t make sure that mainstream media hears from us. Our resources, our knowledge, and our devotion to the cause of representation all come from our members. Each one of you can strengthen us. Each one of you can allow our voice as an organization to grow and be heard.
And that makes you our best bet for more positive representation in the year to come.