Paul Gadzikowski

On Fanfiction

Here's something I myself have written about the worth of fanfiction, on the Usenet newsgroup alt.drwho.creative which is for the posting of DOCTOR WHO fanfiction.

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TrboTurtle (trboturtle@aol.comNOSPAM) wrote:
: Which brings up a Question: Does writing
: fanfic give you ANY thing besides the chance to give a story you've had in your
: mind life on paper? Or is it all just minor scriblings on the wall?

: A bit poetic today for no good reason. . . .

Well, you just pushed my button. Duck.

We've all heard it, I'm sure. People complaining how useless and
inconceivable it is that we should waste all this effort on works about
characters we don't and shall never own - characters from tv! - instead of
original characters. One way it was put to me was "working with someone
else's energy".

Here's what I realized about it today: It's not just someone else's
energy. It's my energy too. In fact, it's everyone's energy. Just like
Hercules was everyone's energy two thousand years ago, and King Arthur was
everyone's energy five hundred years ago, and Paul Bunyan was everyone's
energy a hundred years ago. 

Patrick Stewart in something I read once told a story, back when he was
still appearing as Captain Picard on our screens every week. The press was
always nagging him, "How does it feel to have had this illustrious career
with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in I, CLAUDIUS and all, and then
doing this silly science fiction thing?", and finally he blew up at them:
"All that Shakespeare was just preparation for STAR TREK! It's the same
exotic language, the same fantastic adventure, the same high philosophy
and moral discourse! Get a life!" [He didn't actually say, "Get a life!"
in what I read; I'm paraphrasing.] 

The fact that this energy that is everyone's is owned by big corporations
is an aberration, a hiccup in normality. In our own way, by ignoring the 
illegality of what fanfiction authors do, we are battling for Truth and
Justice just as much as the heroes we write about.

And if you don't believe me, here's a quote from academia: "Fan fiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by the folk." This quote's from Henry Jenkins, director of media studies at MIT; author of Science Fiction Audiences: Watching DOCTOR WHO and STAR TREK (with John Tulloch) and Textual Poachers: Media Fans and Participatory Culture. Jenkins freely admits in these works that he shared all the common prejudices against STAR TREK fans until he became one and learned better. He learned that STAR TREK draws people from all ages and backgrounds into a community of like-minded people that is a cross-section of society as a whole, which is what folk cultures through time have always done.

And here's another quote from academia. The Arthurian scholar Eugene Vinaver, in his introduction to King Arthur and His Knights (an abridgement of Vinaver's edition of Malory), wrote of the evolution of the medieval romances: "In most cases, when a 'branch' or an incident was added, the purpose of the addition was to elucidate or to anticipate stories which were already in existence. ... This 'backward' growth of the narrative implies a method still clearly distinguishable in the works of Rabelais, who began with the adventures of Pantagruel and then went on to the life story of Pantagruel's father, Gargantua; a modern novelist would probably have written his Gargantua first. ... On the wide and constantly expanding canvas of a cycle of romances there is always room for a further lengthening of any one of the carefully interwoven threads." That's what fanfiction does - it expands upon our culture's present body of folklore.

And on the matter of legality: The copyright laws are actually vague, and there is little or no case law to clearly support or refute any charge that fanfiction is illegal. This point is made in an academic paper here on the Web, a paper that makes the argument that fanfiction is and of a right ought to be "fair use", like satire, as provided for in existing copyright law. The paper is Legal Fictions: Copyright, Fan Fiction, and a New Common Law by Rebecca Tushnet, reprinted on the Web with permission, from volume 17 of the Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Journal, 1997 (17 Loy. L.A. Ent. L.J. 651). Jenkins and other sources are quoted in this paper on the essentiality of fanfiction to the folk cultures that are screen-s.f. fandoms. There's also a lawyer named Judith Gran who's an internet STAR TREK fan, who cites case law in support of the contention that fanfiction is fair use if it's not-for-profit and doesn't intrude on the property owners' market.

It should also be noted for the record that not all fanfiction is about same-gender relationships between characters who, onscreen, are enthusiastically heterosexual, any more than all tv shows are about detectives or funny roommates. It's a subgenre - a very popular one, for reasons that have always escaped me, but still just a subgenre.

As for the issue of fanfiction writers wasting their time on it instead of something original i.e. salable: Also on my site are versions of many of my fanfiction stories with the franchises' proper nouns globally replaced by proper nouns from the King Arthur legends, resulting in stories about King Arthur commanding the starship Excalibur and his mentor the time-traveler Merlin. I first did this to one of the fanfiction stories in hopes it would generate salable work. It didn't; but I continued to do it to others of my stories because it was as much fun as writing them in the first place. But I've now launched a comic strip here on the web, Arthur, King of Time and Space, which is my own work yet directly descended from my fanfiction work. If these cartoons eventually become commercial, it won't be the first time fanfiction has so evolved. So if you are complaining to someone you love that s/he needs to quit writing fanfiction and write original stories, you need to stop. You could be obstructing the very creative process you mean to advocate.

Finally, as you may know, the idiom "Get a life!" which I used in the message above is from a 70s or 80s Saturday Night Live skit with William Shatner (Captain Kirk), poking fun at STAR TREK fans. You may or may not know that it's also become the title of a book by William Shatner in which he rather sheepishly explores the genuine worth of STAR TREK fandom to its participants.

If you have any questions on the points I've made, email me.

Or if you're more interested in seeing my money where my mouth is, see my website's index of fanfiction and read some of it. Most of the stories are DOCTOR WHO/STAR TREK crossovers (there's also an essay on crossovers and their relation to real life), and the stories these indexes link to are all PG-13 at most. (Not necessarily the best of these stories, but perhaps the most accessible to someone who's never read fanfiction or never watched DOCTOR WHO and/or STAR TREK, is the story Reach Out And Kill Someone.)

There are also links on my website's link index to friends' sites that have fanfiction too, including the site of Jeri Massi, a DOCTOR WHO fanfiction author who has among her professional sales several Christian novels for children. Or type fanfiction or "fan fiction" into your search engine - but always bear in mind that no editor may stand between any given fanfiction writer and the internet, and some work may fall short - far, far short - of your personal standards of quality, taste, and/or basic written language usage. (My stories at the least are punctuated properly.)

The bottom line, though, is this: If you felt how it makes us feel you couldn't complain.

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