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More and more, creators and producers are viewing the fan relationship as their bread and butter, even as more fans are beginning to see fanwork as equal in status to the original story—even marketable, in the case of many works of Twilight fanfiction and other similar “pulled-to-publish” stories with fanfic as their origin.
Some creators are even openly encouraging their fans to publish and sell fanfiction of their work as it stands, without even the pretense of “filing off the serial numbers” by changing the names of characters or otherwise altering the world of the original story. And fandom itself is growing to be synonymous with geek culture as a whole—both of which are seeping inexorably into the mainstream.
That’s a huge reversal from where things stood even a few years ago, and not everyone is quite on board with this change. We can see this anxiety in the very language two of this week’s SXSW panels use to summarize the fan/creator relationship.
“Frenemies: Fanning the Flames of Fandom” looks to be a kind of ‘Fandom 101’ for the creator, producer, and marketer who wants to understand how to engage successfully with fandom.
“Creators vs Audience: Next Chapter in Storyteling,” a panel sponsored by deviantART, seems to take roughly the same stance. However, the introductory angle that both panels take seem to pit fans and creators against one another, rather than as potential partners in a relationship built around shared love for a story.
Here’s the panel description for “Frenemies”:
Storytellers! Underestimate the power of fandom at your peril. If a storyteller has done his or her job right, they have created a rich story world complete with cannons [sic], tropes and multiple layers of mythology- a world that is ripe for hijacking and take over by the fans. From alternate universes to slash fiction and additive fan created cannon the relationship between the storyteller and the fan enabled by technology has become more and more complex and can best be described as one of “frenemies”- “friend + enemy”. What represents a victory to the fan may represent a loss of control to the storyteller. So how does a storyteller manage a fan community that may know more about the story world then they do? Who owns the IP? Is fandom like nuclear power that can be used for good or evil? We’ll venture deep into the fan underworld with a panel that breathes the air and serves the Kool-Aid.
This is a polarizing description, beginning with the terminology itself. The word fans use to describe their source stories is not “cannon” but “canon,” a use derived from fans’ belief that just like literary and film canons, the source text of a novel/film/series is something to be held above the rest of the field, taken and viewed as being of a higher standard or authority than what’s produced around it, including fanwork.
But it’s tough to grasp the fundamental reverence fans have for their source materials from a description that speaks of fandom as an “underworld,” of fans “hijacking,” “taking over,” and exercising “victory” over creators. Is this fandom or a group of shadowy culture terrorists?