Response to Who Gets to Write Fandom History?

As you describe in your post, Who Gets to Write Fandom History?, understanding how fandoms are created and evolve is complicated. I think that is even more reason to praise fandom cultural anthropologists, like Henry Jenkins, Camille Bacon-Smith, and danah boyd, who help to create fandom snapshots of limited moments in time

Figuring out what counts in fandom is a constant interaction — often with older fans schooling newer fans. Of course, there are factual matters in fandom that can be memorized (all sports fandom) and fan shorthand (little Danish friend, that one picture of Uncle Trent (pre-uncleing), cream stew) but what is more likely to be disputed are matters of opinion that can never truly be resolved (Is “The Four Horsemen” or “The Mechanix” the real version?; Were the Road Warriors the best tag team ever?; Who was the best Doctor Who ever?).

But if common knowledge is what binds fandoms together it can also cause rifts or breaks when the fan-created ideas bifurcate (Was it OK to make Greedo shoot first? — and to bring it back to Gundam Wing, are/aren’t Catherine and Trowa siblings and the OTPs are/aren’t Heero/Relena, Duo/Hilde, Quatre/Trowa).

And that is the difficulty in reporting fandom history — how is it possible to objectively report fan history when the only people that truly care are highly biased and non-objective.

In his New Yorker article, Tim Wu analogizes Vander Ark (the compiler of the Harry Potter Lexicon) to Arachne, the weaver, and J.K. Rowling to Athena, goddess inventor of weaving:

Whether Arachne was actually better we’ll never know, for Athena, in a jealous rage, destroyed her rival’s tapestry and turned her into a spider.

Not to overdo my childhood obsession with Greek mythology, but Arachne was punished not for learning how to be skillful, but like her friend Niobe, for holding herself to be better than the gods (by weaving only their sexual indiscretions noted by Ovid in possibly the first literary reference to p–n). Arachne’s work was flawless: “[Athena] could not find a fleck or flaw–even Envy can not censure perfect art.”

And this right here is but a small example of the type of fan knowledge that fans in all fandom have. Recently, a friend commented about a book chapter wondering how the author could get things so wrong — “Everyone knows X wasn’t released until Y!” And that fan knowledge working together becomes fan labor. And according to some of the Harry Potter fan community the perceived exploitation of fan labor is what the Lexicon lawsuit is about – – not traditional notions of intellectual property.

Tim Wu’s article implies that Vander Ark is the misunderstood geek, just trying to impress the cheerleaders with their arbitrary rules for who can belong. But he is really more like Jenny on Gossip Girl — don’t mess with Blair or you’ll get burned.

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