OTW Guest Post: Agnese Pietrobon

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.

Agnese Pietrobon is an independent scholar in fandom studies with a master’s degree in social psychology and psychology of communication. She is currently president of the cultural association fanheart3, dedicated to fans and fan culture. Today, Agnese talks about her work for fanheart3, Italy’s first fanfiction convention, and her fannish history.

How did you first get into fandom and fanworks?

I discovered fandom before I knew what the word fandom meant! When we were kids, me and my friends used to reenact scenes from movies and shows. We loved to try and give them different endings: Star Wars, movies with Bud Spencer and Terence Hill… Then, in high school, my best friend and I used to share a journal where we wrote self-insert stories where our fictional selves met Backstreet Boys (embarrassingly normal for adolescents) and Kevin Spacey (embarrassingly not normal at 15 years old).

It wasn’t until years later that I realized those were fanfictions (and NC-17 rated, too). In my defense, the Internet was still something very, very new at the time, and living in a small town in Italy did not give me access to fanzines or similar media. So being a fan for me mostly meant these things, and collecting pics from magazines, or watching and re-watching VHS while analyzing every expression my favorite characters wore, while sharing all of this with the people I had around.

It was only when I started reading the Harry Potter books, though, that I finally gave a name to the things I was doing: I joined a blog dedicated to this fandom where I could chat to no end with other people about our favorite ships and about my absolute conviction that Snape was Harry’s father. Only 4 books had been published at the time, so we spent a lot of time discussing theories and ideas.

At some point someone started sharing what they called fanfictions. And that was it. A whole new world of possibilities… it was amazing! So two years and tons of slash fanfictions later, I decided to write my bachelor thesis on fanfictions. From then on, I could not stop studying fanworks.

What is Fanheart3 and how did it get formed?

Fanheart3 is an Italian cultural association dedicated to fans and founded in 2014 thanks to the common passion of a group of friends.

It started, well, as a form of protest! In 2012 I applied for admission to a PhD program in Psychology at my University. The professors’ reactions to my project (a study on fans’ activities in relation to their emotional response to certain products) was immensely disappointing. It was clear they did not have the slightest idea about why studying fans could be so important nor about their actual role in influencing production. They even laughed a bit at the idea that there was something to talk about, there.

I ranted about my frustration with some very close friends and we started developing a project to work on fan-related topics on our own. Together we decided a cultural association was the best approach and fanheart3 was born.

We currently operate in fandom studies through scientific research, interviews and articles directed to fans. To build a live community, we also organize themed events like our “fanhunt”, a treasure hunt with clues from movies, TV shows, books and more. Also, being fans ourselves, we often visit events which are in some way linked to fans in general (the Lucca Comics & Games, the Venice Film Festival, the Supernatural Jus in Bello convention, just to mention some examples). We also offer reports and live videos to share the experience with those who could not be there.

Currently there are five of us working at fanheart3, all women from 27 to 37 years old who are not only colleagues and friends but soulmates, somehow. We fight over pairings and Marvel teams, mind you (I say Team Stark rules), but we feel part of and witnesses to something incredible — a community made of people who are passionate and alive and open minded, and who certainly are not that useless “object of study” those professors seemed to think.

You’re involved with creating a fanfiction convention in Italy. Will it be the first such convention? What sort of challenges have you faced?

When we opened fanheart3 one of the first questions we asked ourselves was: “What kind of events would we like to experience, as fans, but which are not available around us?”. And what we really, really wanted was an event entirely dedicated to fanfictions. So we decided to organize ficsIT, which is both a writing contest and a convention on fanfictions. The writing contest will be closed by the time this interview will be published (it closed on 31st March), while the convention will take place in Padua later this year, on the 3rd of June. A jury of experts on fanfictions will choose the best stories and award the first three prizes during the convention. On that day panelists from around Italy will also join the con to talk about the origin of fanfictions, fanfic genres, and some specific themes like new masculine identities created through this type of fanworks (all panels will be in Italian).

Ironically, one of the initial challenges was how to name this event. After some intense discussion, we opted for ficsIT: it plays with the expression “fix-it” (a tag often connected to fanfictions) and at the same time the “IT” is a reminder of the Italian setting in which the convention will take place. I must admit the main challenge is still ongoing, though. While we found some very enthusiastic and interesting people ready to talk at the convention, we are currently (March 2018) experiencing some difficulties receiving fanfictions for the writing contest: maybe because of the challenging theme, metafandom (in other words, fanfictions where characters are fans of something themselves), or maybe because it’s a first edition. Anyway, I have to say that the works that have been sent to us are incredibly good, and gratifying to receive too. There are some incredible ideas behind those fanfictions, so this is a good moment to thank those who took the time to write them!

How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?

It all started with AO3, a great archive where I could find fanfictions from almost all the other websites I used to visit. I joined it and then took a look at who was behind it and found out about the Organization for Transformative Works. Being a scholar myself, I was very interested in the kind of work OTW was doing: historically, legally, and culturally. OTW was giving (and is still giving) fans and their fanworks the same importance as other “official” products and producers have. It does not delegate fannish works to a secondary position just because no one gets paid to create them. In this, it allows people to approach this production with the same respect reserved for any other artistic creation and it gives value to what we create every single day.

Also, its historical approach allows fans to have something that resemble an “origin story” and it creates a connection between those who shaped fan culture as we know it and the new generations who will come and join it. The legal work is certainly another fundamental aspect, which I admire immensely, despite not understanding all its dynamics. But I have to say that it’s OTW’s utmost professionality towards something deemed “unprofessional” by many that really caught my heart and kept it, because it made me feel recognized and valued in my identity as a fan.

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

More than fandom things, fans themselves have been of great inspiration to me. I love the fact that we share this attitude of “not judging a book by its cover” (literally, sometimes). Yes, there is a story, and yes, it has already been written by someone else. But this is not all there is to it. I can read more behind it, I can see more than what is in front of me. I can add to it my own interpretationand, in doing so, make the story more than the sum of its parts.

It’s amazing, if you think about it, the kind of depth it requires to be a fan. You see a character acting a certain way and you don’t just accept it, like anyone else would do. You ask yourself questions. A lot of them (sometimes too many of them!). Why does this character act like that? What do I learn from their actions? Are they coherent with what I know about this character? And if not, what could justify them? In trying to find answers you use your brain and your heart, and you really get involved in everything that is happening. So maybe we overanalyze things, but we also put all of ourselves into our passions and we are not afraid to be seen as outsiders, by other people, because of it. That’s something that I can’t help admiring and being inspired by, because it constantly reminds me that, to love and understand something, you cannot watch it from a comfortable position. You need to get close to it, work for it and really, really look.

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  1. Chiara Cecchinelli commented:

    I’m from Rome (Italy), and my professors were more than happy to help me in my master thesis, two years ago, about Transformative Works, their developing in history from fanzine to today, and how we could adapt this kind of writing to our national copyright law (my major was in publishing). They scored me the highest mark, with laude, and stopped me out of the class after my dissertation, to know something more about this wonderful whole new world, so I really think our academic representatives are fascinated by fanfics and their role in the gift culture. I’m sorry her professor didn’t share this feeling!

  2. Serena commented:

    It’s such a shame in Italy we are still behind when it comes to fan fiction and the psychological aspects it involves.
    I live in the UK now and they definitely have a different approach here!
    I say try again Agnese and show those Professor you have always been right!!!