A Fandom History Primer (Part II)

(This is the second of a two-part series on fandom. Read the first part here.)

Star Trek launched fandom into the public spotlight once again. Fan conventions, slash zines, articles, meta, analysis, and praise — all of this came into the collective lexicon of the fan in the late ’60s. The very first all-Star Trek fanzine was launched and written in 1968, named the Spokanalia. Conventions were held, the actors revered, and Star Trek launched an incredible amount of interest in science fiction and space fiction that has never stopped. I want to add in, just as an aside, that while Sherlock fandom seemed to be indiscriminate of gender, the actual fandom activities that fans participated in while involved in the Star Trek fandom seemed to come from a majority of women authors, illustrators, and convention planners. The derivative nature of these pieces of work had an extremely gendered slant.

There are a few more places on the fandom timeline we must mention. For a long time, many creators knew, and even encouraged fanwork of their media. Gene Roddenberry, creator and head Star Trek writer, said that “Spockanalia was “required reading” in our offices.” Then the internet came around, and the distribution of media was suddenly not limited by how many zines one could afford to produce, or how many fans sent in their own stories, or if you could get a zine from a friend of a friend at a convention, but instead, fandom exploded onto forums and fansites in the early ’90s.

With this increased exposure came increased scrutiny from authors. Many vibrant fandoms went underground because authors started reacting against it. Most notably, in 2000, Anne Rice employed lawyers to start going after fanfiction writers, claiming that they were infringing on her copyright. The Vampire Chronicles fandom hid their sites, and fanfic was called ‘spec’, and the term helped nominally protect these authors from Rice’s lawyers. In 2005, Robin Hobb, a noted fantasy author, posted a scathing anti-fanfic, pornophobic rant on her website. Very recently, in late 2013, Sharon Lee stated that she absolutely does not want anyone reinterpreting or touching her characters.

A few notable places where fandom thrived: besides the individual fansites, newsgroups, and specific genre and media forums, were larger group-based websites. LiveJournal was one place that collected fandoms, and it was incredibly popular in the early 2000s. Fanfiction archives, most notably fanfiction.net (est. 1998), started enacting stricter rules about what was or wasn’t allowed on the site, and in 2002 banned NC-17 work, causing more people to head to LiveJournal to post their fic. Despite this, participation slowly declined, starting around 2007 as the site was sold to various companies (the latest a Russian-owned organization) which led to new restrictions, rules, and was a much less secure website. All this drastically decreased the membership and activity on the site and left people searching for a new home for fandom.

LiveJournal was also not intuitive or user friendly. You had to know what to look for before you were really able to participate. While LJ succeeded in creating a decentralized fandom, it also made it hard to enter fandom at all. There was a focus on shorter work, there was little restriction on whether or not work needed to be ‘complete’ in order to be posted, and people often competed for attention. These are some of the reasons why people began to migrate to Tumblr and Twitter for fandom activities in the late 2000s.

If LiveJournal started the trend of decentralization of fandom authority, Tumblr solidified it. There were no exclusive spaces in Tumblr, and trends, memes, rec lists, and meta were shared across all fandoms, depending on who you followed. Focus shifted from writing to fanart, graphics, edits, and gifs, and creators were again not limited by the restrictions on explicit material or publication issues. Archive of Our Own (also called AO3), established in 2008, has always had a no-holds-barred policy on what kind of transformative fic people are allowed to post. This means that AO3 allows explicit material, exempt from censorship or any kind. The Archive has also made adjustments to allow podfic and fanart to be posted.

AO3 is also taking steps to actively preserve fan culture from all corners of the internet and beyond. They are working to record some of the first SkySolo Star Wars fic, old fanzines, interviews with creators, and more. While they are the go-to resource, they are also crowdsourced and essentially non-authoritarian, giving all the power back to the fans and the authors.

Which is where we are now.  

Modern fandom has roots past Sherlock, (a fascinating academic article makes the argument that the commonplace books of teenage girls created the first fandom around Lord Byron’s poetry) but it is essentially because of two reasons I assert again that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation is the true granddaddy of fandom. The first reason is that there was a widespread, non-academic group of people sharing derivative works and participating in active fandom. The second reason is that there was a serialized and specific method by which the pop culture was delivered and disseminated.

So go forth, young fanfic writers, and remember that yours is a long and storied history.