Fanfiction, Fandom and Lit Classes — What Not to Do

I normally don’t Facebook much on the weekend. Facebook seems to have an intensely personal relationship with my phone, so I always feel like I’m in an illicit affair when I scan my Facebook feed via any other method. I’m glad that my cheating heart did a little gotta-go-gotta-go-gotta-go-right-now, or I would have missed a post that pointed me at a small, problematic, and ill-thought out class at Berkeley.

Waldorph — who is, in my opinion, an author with a body of work is far better quality than a lot of what you can find on the shelves — was being mysteriously trolled by people leaving peculiarly concrit heavy reviews. This led to Waldorph discovering that her work was being used as a text in a fanfiction class and that the students were being required to leave feedback.

I’ve been processing that all night.

I have problems with the structure of this class.  It’s not so much that they use publically available pieces of fanfiction.  I have to accept that once I post, my content is out there and like the song says, I know that people will use them however they want to.  As fanfic authors we have no say in how someone might use our words — they can be used for a class, an introduction to fandom, as that comfortable cheer-up fic, or as kindling.  That’s the right of readers once our work is out hanging in the breeze.

So that these fanworks were set to be used for a class doesn’t intrinsically bother me.  I think I’d be faintly horrified to learn someone was using my writing for a class, but under normal circumstances it still wouldn’t be a problem — because I wouldn’t have to listen to any part of critical deconstruction or discussion.  In a normal English or Lit class, you read something, you discuss it, you write about it, and you turn it in to the teacher.  Stephen King doesn’t have to know what you think of the construction of Firestarter; Nora Roberts doesn’t need to know how you feel about the character progression of Peabody in her In Death series, Laurell K. Hamilton won’t be exposed to your opinion of the balance of sex and politics in Anita Blake.

And that’s okay.  You get to express your opinion, positive or negative, you get a grade and you move on. If you really, really like it, I suppose you might write fan mail that is likely never seen by the actual author, but that’s something you’d do on your own, personal time.

This, however, isn’t the same thing at all. This is leaving feedback  — specifically concrit — for credit.

Just think about that for a moment. The students were asked to leave concrit for the author.  They were leaving concrit for credit and to prove they’d actually read and understood the story.  They weren’t asked to write a hundred words on the content and bring it to class for discussion.  They were told to tell an author what they thought of the work, not because they enjoyed it (or even hated it so much they couldn’t keep silent), but because they had to.

It’s anathema. That’s what it is.  In part because the students of the course may or may not be members of the fannish community, may or may not be aware of the cultural norms of fandom and the big, multifandom archives like AO3, and may or may not be comfortable interacting with the authors — but mostly because no one asked the authors if they were okay with being interacted with, and for a grade at that.

There are all kinds of issues with concrit in Fandom. Some authors are okay with it, others are not.  Some think they are, up to the moment they get a rabid deconstruction of everything by a self-proclaimed literary guru, others just don’t care how you feel about it and just don’t want to listen to you, guru or not.  The unwritten rule, though, is that if you can’t say something nice, hit the back button and move the fuck on. There’s a lot of fanfic out there and you don’t have to waste your time on something you don’t enjoy.

It bothers me that the students of this class and the authors selected don’t  have the option for the use of said rule. Now it’s true that an author could choose to ignore the comments and feedback coming from students — but ignoring a single asshat is one thing.  Trying to ignore five to thirty? That’s unreasonable.  The author would feel — and rightfully so — that they were being targeted for no discernible reason.  For that reason alone, the authors should have been warned, at the very least, and yielded to if they said they wanted no part in it.

I understand the class is student run and as such, the instructors may not have sufficient training in pedagogy and Ethics, particularly when it comes to direct interactions with individuals for the purpose of study.

What’s hard to forgive is that someone in the relevant department failed to exercise due diligence in the supervision for this course.  I’m not sure if its because ‘it’s only fanfiction’ or because they forgot that the content of the internet is not made up by robots, but someone should be disciplined for allowing this debacle to even take place.

Next time, kids, teach the texts without involving the authors.

Also? Don’t create bullshit assignments like “join a fandom and see if you can get people to like your creative writing enough to gain fifty Kudos.” What is that even supposed to prove?  That a student can write or that they can bullshit a community of people? For shame.

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