October Membership Drive: How the OTW changed my life

This post was contributed by jackiekjono, Development & Membership staffer.

As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the OTW, I’d like to share some thoughts about how OTW has changed my fannish life.

I entered the secret world of vidding about 18 years ago when my roommate received a large box of VHS tapes containing all of the episodes of Wise Guy and a couple of extra tapes with these weird little music videos on them. A few months later, she and our neighbor Wendy were making vids — and a few years later, so was I.

I didn’t tell my family or co-workers much about it. If I mentioned it at all, it was only in the vaguest terms. When I did bother telling people, they usually had no idea what I was talking about. Partly, I kept quiet because I thought people would think it was really weird that someone would be that into a television show or a movie. Partly, I was afraid that the more people knew about vidding, the more likely it was that we would be found by the RIAA.

I spent a lot of time worrying that the RIAA was going to show up on my doorstep at any moment, sue me, and take my house. I wasn’t alone on that one. Pretty much everyone I talked to fully believed that the RIAA was just one ‘bot search away from finding them and suing. It never actually happened to any vidders that I know of, but most of us in the American live-action vidding world spent a lot of time worrying about it.

Around the time the OTW was starting up, there was a lot of discussion about fannish visibility — how more and more things like old Usenet sites were becoming searchable by Google, and more and more magazines were doing articles on fan culture that made us all look pretty twisted. While some of these issues are still hotly debated, it became clear to some folks, myself included, that it was not going to get any easier to avoid outside attention. Fans needed to make some effort to influence the way we are perceived by the wider world and maybe even advocate for ourselves on some of the legal issues like copyright and trademark that can be problematic, particularly for writers of fan fiction and vidders. We needed to admit who we were and stand up for ourselves so that when draconian copyright legislation was debated, people would know that those affected by it were not just the copyright pirates who would sell bootleg tapes out of their coats on the street, but people they actually knew. We can complain about laws being passed or technologies being created or website policy changes going into effect that harm us — but if no one knows we are there, there is no reason why they ever would take us into account.

In the time since the OTW was founded, I have mentioned vidding when people ask me about my interests, with mostly positive results. (Feel sorry for that poor hapless man who was stuck sitting next to me on the train from Cardiff to London on my way back from Vidukon. I may have had vids loaded onto my iPod that he may have made the mistake of asking to see. *whistles innocently*) About three years ago, I mentioned vidding to a friend of a friend and, while he was not fannish at all, he not only knew what it was, but he had just heard a bit on NPR about it and even knew the name Kandy Fong and that she was local (which I didn’t even know). I know that OTW was very much a part of that NPR story.

As a vidder, I have also now started ripping source from DVDs. Some of you may not be aware that it was actually against the law to rip DVDs in the US (and it still is in many cases), but thanks to the folks in OTW legal and their allies, there is now an exemption for noncommercial remix artists. While I didn’t know of anyone who had ever been prosecuted for such a thing, actual law breaking is something I try to avoid. Now my vids have the shiniest possible source and are not blurry, captured, headache-inducing nightmares.

How has your fannish life changed in the last five years? Has the OTW played a role in those changes? Share your story in the comments or in your own online spaces, and please donate to support the OTW’s efforts.

  1. Olivia Sutton commented:

    It’s odd — so many things in my life – friends, experiences, places I’ve gone, people I’ve met have been because I stumbled into fandom, oh about 1986 or so. I’ve been reading Fan Fiction, first in zines, then on various listservs, then on Fan Fiction Net, and now on AO3 and other websites since the 1980s. I love watching vids, but I haven’t a clue how to make one.
    One thing I think is worth mentioning here is that academic study of fandom has actually helped. I know some people don’t like “putting put under a microscope” or fail to understand scientific social studies – but books like Henry Jenkins *Textual Poachers* and Camille Bacon-Smith’s *Enterprising Women* have attempted to do the impossible – explain fans and fandom to those who don’t understand it. And, after all, someone with a Ph.d usually is a fan — they’re just a fan of medieval culture, Egyptology, the culture of human beings, or Victorian literature. And, like fans they write papers about their interests primarily for people with the same interests and even hold conventions.
    OTOH – I can definitely identify with the author’s feeling of not being able to come out of the fannish closet as it were – fandom is something I don’t share with people I work with, which sometimes makes people think I’m too reserved. Oh well.

    By the way — I’m new to AO3, but I really like it so far. I adapted to the web-based interface much easier than I thought I would, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE being able to download stories as EPUBs to transfer to my e-reader to read away from my computer. That’s AWESOME! I also like the “kudos” feature.

    • Kristen Murphy commented:

      Thanks for sharing your experience! It’s great to hear that you’re enjoying the Archive. And as someone who works in an academic environment, I definitely agree with you that there are strong similarities between scholarly activity and fannish activity. A colleague of mine who is a literature professor recently attended a conference that involved hiking to locations featured in famous Romantic poems and reading the poems aloud. If that isn’t a fannish pilgrimage, I don’t know what is. 🙂