OTW Guest Post

OTW Guest Post: Judith Fathallah

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.

Judith Fathallah is presently a postdoctoral researcher at Solent University. Her first book was Fanfiction and the Author and she is currently working on a second book, provisionally titled The Genre Fandom Shaped: Emo, New Media and Genre. Today, Judith talks about her article in Transformative Works and Cultures.

How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?

In 2002 I was fourteen. My family had recently gotten dial-up internet at home. I was allowed about an hour a day online which I mostly used for AOL messenger and MySpace. Through MySpace I discovered some of the bands which are still my favourites to this day, and started to find community around them with likeminded teens – even including a couple who went to my school!

I was quite an unhappy teenager and found MySpace a huge help in meaningful socialization. But I probably discovered Fanfiction.net from Googling things to do with Lord of the Rings, which I was then obsessed with. It absolutely blew my mind, because like a lot of us, I’d been writing fanfiction since I was six or seven, without realizing it had a name or that anyone apart from me did it. (Except for when I managed to persuade my older brother to produce for me more stories featuring Sonic the Hedgehog. Which he never finished, incidentally.)

I dived right into reading fanfiction and haven’t stopped since. I can remember drafting stories under the table at school, waiting all day until it was my turn to use the internet so I could upload them and read my reviews.

Your article in TWC’s issue 27 is about hate blogs and their post-modern style of criticism. What led you to write about them?

We call ourselves ‘fans’ and ‘anti-fans’ or even ‘haters’ as a matter of convenience, but really there’s a whole range of affect in our interactions with texts. I found that studying ‘hate-blogs’ was a useful entrance into looking at some of these emergent and less studied expressions. As I wrote in the article, what I found isn’t simply definable as hate or antifandom at all –- it’s a complicated, carnivalesque kind of critique, generally very humorous, which undermines both the ideologies of the text on display and its own claims to authority. Its inherently polyvocal and self-reflexive, and seems to me emblematic of a kind of ambiguously critical, observational humour we find in online culture more broadly.

I hate to use the term ‘millennial humour’, firstly because I’m not sure if the concept of a ‘millennial’ really holds water, and also because its become so stereotyped — but I do think these blogs are an important lens on the form of absurdism which has evolved in the economic and socio-technological context of the 2010s.

You link the blogs on Tumblr to earlier fandom_wank community accounts, but note that the focus as well as the Tumblr style and technical affordances make them different. Do you think the Tumblr model you examine could have existed earlier or could it do so on another platform right now?

Not really. As we know, websites’ norms of practice develop through, against and in response to their coding, and the reblog-and-comment, multimedia-based code of Tumblr shapes it’s content. I think the pastiche effect that results from this informs the meaning of Tumblr(s) in quite particular ways.

Earlier antifandom communities tended to critique texts and their creators in a more traditional, holistic style (though of course the nature of texts we consume has changed also, but that’s tangential issue). I suppose someone could create a platform that imitates Tumblr based on the same code, perhaps with a different set of rules/expectations for users –- but it would have to have its some features that set it apart, or why would people leave Tumblr for it?

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

I knew about it from the time of its development –- I witnessed the Great Livejournal Strikethrough of 2007 from my college dorm room, though it didn’t affect me directly. There was a lot of discussion about how people should react, what people wanted out of fandom and how fandom might look in the future.

As to the role, that’s a bit more complicated. I think the mission statement to archive and preserve fanworks is an admirable one, and I appreciate the organizational functions which have made searching and bookmarking so much easier. I also think that legal advocacy and the defense of fanworks is going to be increasingly important, as media industries seek to maximise revenue streams in the digital environment. We’ve all read about the implications of the so-called ‘meme ban’ (part of the EU’s new copyright directive that places responsibility for potential infringements on the hosting website rather than the copyright owner). I’m actually putting together a research network right now called ‘the people formerly known as the audience’, concerned with changing user/industry interactions, and I think the OTW will be a representative voice in these debates over the next few years.

That said, no one organization can claim to represent ‘fandom’ as a holistic entity, or all the voices of all fans everywhere. So I think the OTW is more of a rallying point around which different people can voice their opinions, even if their conceptions of fandom are quite different.

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

Fandoms maintain my faith in the value of art and humanities. I think as researchers and writers in the so-called ‘soft’ subjects, we’ve sometimes faced external scepticism and maybe even internal doubt about the ultimate ‘value’ of our work. The huge amount of creative labour, organizational and administrative tasks that people undertake in fandoms all over the world, for free, often in addition to demanding work and home lives, reminds me that social and collaborative artistic work is a fundamental part of being human. We have always done it, even when we are forced to put most of our time and energy into practical survival – art-making is part of homo sapiens’ evolution as a distinct species, whereas the ideas of distinct texts, individual authorship and the ownership of texts as property are both new and quite possibly transient.

If asked why I participate in fandom, I couldn’t really explain it. It’s just something I do — as I noted, I was writing fanfiction and daydreaming new adventures for my favourite characters as far back as I remember, long before I had any concept of fandom or names for it. The discovery that so many other people did the same things and were coming together to share it was both exciting and incredibly affirming to me –- and I suppose it still is, even when it’s combative and people are angry. They’re angry because it matters, and that inspires me.


Catch up on earlier guest posts