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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation

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hummus, take two
children of dune - leto 1
Does anyone remember the context of Slash Fiction Is Like a Banquet? I read it within a year of it being posted--probably around 2000, a bit before I started writing slash.

One of the first qualifiers I ever learned to use, and now use obsessively, is "I think". "To me". "From what I have seen". There are a lot of reasons for this--most notably when I was very new in fandom and I'd participate in discussions that I had zero context for but was interested in, but wanted to, you know, not get my ass flamed for saying something incredibly stupid. I mean, sure, I still got singed once in a while, but the habit's been set and I think how I interact with fandom in general now tends to be influenced by that. And a lot of the things I've had problems with over time has been the absolutism of some kinds of meta, whereas I like the open-ended question best. More--I like the fact there's no single right answer, that most of the time there isn't a right answer, and that most people tend to be comfortable aware that their own way of thinking or interacting with fandom is not necessarily the only one.

So Hummus, in and out of context.

I always read it as less a 'stop writing x' or even a 'you should be writing y', but instead as a kind of challenge to writers, and readers, to expand their reading and writing into places they usually wouldn't go.

I think it might sometimes read as an accusation. Or it can be used as one, in fandoms with strong OTPs (aka 'your pairing is oppressing my pairing, and also, you are boring and your hair is stupid.' I love fandom. Until that part starts) or even between fandoms ('your fandom is large and oppresses my smaller fandom, blah boring blah hair'), or far more fun to me personally, really insiduous fanon ('oh my god you do not write anything like canon and your feet smell'). And the always popular and teethgrinding joy of long essays of explanation on how you are thinking wrong (whatever it may be, from pairing to how a story is written to how the characters act to how you interact with fandom). Always a joy to behold.

Fandoms, especially ones after their second anniversary, get into ruts. That is not new. I like ruts--ruts are comfortable and expected and, for me, make fandom fun. I like a certain level of predictibility where I can get comfortable, be able to click, and not, you know, come out marginally scarred or mildly homicidal or disliking the author for weeks and having to filter her out of my flist because I have flashbacks of horror. (Yes, it's neurotic and nuts. Seriously, I do not care. My fannish experience = my rules.) I kind of like hummus. It's comfort food. Metaphorical hummus, that is. I still haven't actually had hummus itself. Sometimes, my hummus is someone else's icky liver casserole, and this could be taking the metaphor too far and too confusingly. It is. Let's try again.

Hummus never struck me as a bad thing, even an overabundance. I mean, no, if I hate hummus, wow, I'm screwed, and trust me on this one, the hummus of SGA is not always my hummus and I spend a lot of time staring resentfully at the newsletter at all the things I cannot eat. Read. That. It's not restricted to pairing, either--I have specific hummus requirements in my pairing, and even more specific hummus requiremetns outside it. So even a hummus banquet can be frustrating.

Here's the thing. I don't actually think there's an overabundance of hummus. I don't even think, most of the time, there's that big a lack of variety in general. There's just an overabundance of what I don't like, and there always will be, forever, because I don't like it. And in almost any fannish meta or discussion, I think a lot of it can be boiled down to that single point. Which is why I hate absolutism--it *is* this way, it *should* be this way, you are *doing it wrong*, you are *thinking wrong*. I am perfectly willing to state that there is far, far too much slut!John fic--but that's because it's not my favorite characterization and I don't read it, so inevitably, I will bitterly note the fic that is and feel marginalized and you know, grumpy. Or ranty. Whatever. That doesnt' change my basic awareness of one pertinent fact--there actually isn't that much of it.

So. This is a really, really strange way of explaining--it's not that anyone should do anything, or that they're doing anything *wrong*, pairingwise, plotlinewise, etc. What it reads to me as is a reminder of what else is out there and that we could attempt. Especially if we are, say, like me, and complain that there isn't enough x fic or too much y fic or get cranky and gripe that they want z-fic and why is no one writing it?. But as an absolute? I don't think even the original writer meant it as a guide to how you should live your fannish experience. (I really love that term, fannish experience.) To me--see, qualifier? Because hey, I can be wrong)--it's more a reminder of the possibilities inherent in what we do as readers and writers.

And okay, that sounds insane. Now I will do work. Sort of. Or pretend to.

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Does anyone remember the context of Slash Fiction Is Like a Banquet?

I do. *g*

But first -- a friend pointed me here, and I have to say I'm tickled pink that people are still reading and talking about this essay. This is so cool!

The context was pretty specific, actually, but I'm delighted that the metaphor was open enough that people could get so much out of it.

I wrote it one Saturday during a list discussion on... er. A pan-fandom slash discussion list on onelist, which in my head is called "oneslash" but I'm not entirely certain that's correct. The memory, sometimes she fails me.

Anyway, iirc (it's been a while!) the conversation was one of the interminable rehashes of public discussion about stories, and whether it's okay to say you don't like a story or whether you should only ever praise things. As always, several people on the list were vehemently insisting that no one ever say anything negative in any way about any story, because omg, if writers are not praised to the sky at all times, they will stop writing! And then there would be nothing to read! (With the general implication being that if there were even a chance that someone might not be praised because fandom said it was okay to say you don't like a story, that authors would be too intimidated to ever post anything.)

A few of us (me, z_rayne, a few others) were trying to point out that sheer quantity isn't everything, and people have a right to have their own taste in fiction and say so, etc. And pointing out that if a writer is producing nothing but poorly written dreck, encouraging her just results in *more* dreck, and at least saying "um... spellcheck? maybe?" might make it more palatable. (The dreck in question, to clarify, was a spate of people posting what amounted to story *ideas*, without bothering to flesh anything out at all, posted as fast as they could type them up, and expecting to be praised for that.)

The return argument was that dreck was better than nothing, so quitcherbitchin', already, and be thankful that people were writing anything at all.

So I started writing up a reply. The arguments I'd been making, about stories per se, were just making people defensive, so I decided a metaphor was in order. And I was, um. Really hungry. *g*

I know, not very uplifting!

I originally had only intended it for a list post, within the specific conversation that was taking place that weekend; it wasn't until someone (sherrold, who iirc had been forwarded the email by someone else) wrote to me asking if she could put it up on her site as a guest rant that it occurred to me that it might work as a broader-themed essay. Shortly thereafter, I got a site of my own and put it up there as well.

And that is the context of the essay! I'm really chuffed that people are getting more out of it, and that it seems to be staying relevant. Too cool.

onelist became egroups became yahoogroups. But onelist was the first one to allow MLs outside of majordomo and make it easy.

Yep! And thus began the balkanization of fandom...

Actually-- I've been thinking, yeah. I guess it did, but at the same time, it allowed a certain freedom of "this is my preference" and I think I see some growing pains of that in LJ where you DON'T get to choose your filter so to speak. LJ is not your senad mailing list. It doesn't have even that small amount of balkanization that we had way back when (when communication was tougher so I don't quite know if it's the same).

Huh. I think we're using "balkanized" differently -- to me, it's the breaking-apart of unified things into smaller, more specific segments. (Wikipedia explains balkanization better than I could.)

Before onlist (and then egroups, then yahoogroups), there was generally one mailing list for a fandom, or *maybe* one gen list and one slash list, plus maybe a fiction list (or one gen and one adult and/or slash one). Everyone had to share the same space no matter what their specific interests were, because it was only space available.

When Onelist came along and suddenly anyone could create a mailing list, fandom started to split, like the Balkans did, as people gravitated to lists that catered to their specific tastes. So, in Sentinel, we went from having just Senad, to also having "BlairOwwies" and "BigGuyLovesHairBoy" and Prospect-L and SenAngst and a whole host of others.

When LJ came along, to me, fandom balkanized even more, as people basically picked and chose specifically what they wanted to see in each of their fandoms.

Nono! We agree. I even looked it up to double check (and got that wiki page *G*).

What I meant was-- hmm. We still have that division on LJ. But our reading and writing isn't neccessarily limited to those places. So.

I may friend you for-- Buffy. (Making up fandoms here) Because you're really cool on that Buffy/Xander LJ comm.

But in your Journal you don't just talk about Buffy/Xander, you bring up Xander/Larry and Xander/Andrew. You also don't just talk about Buffy. You talk about Angel and then one day Firefly sneaks in and then *GASP* you move out of Jossverse and start talking about Farscape. Yes you still talk about that reason I friended you over in that really specific community. But you're also talking about other things. I'm getting cross-contamination of my foods (to bring it back to the metaphor). I don't think this is bad, I just think that some of the 'rough patches' in LJ come from this new sort of mixing of things we like.

I mean, even in topic specific comms we get "cross posted to...." which will inform us of other communities often far broader than the types we got exposed to on mailing lists.

I've actually seen this leak BACK to mailing lists. I've had to grump at list mods to please stop the Serenity spoilers on my NCIS mailing list. Because I think people are used to a different, more permeable delineation that LJ provides.

I think the growing pains of fandom in lj are going to be a while straightening out, to be honest, but I think that has to do with the sheer power of personality taking precedence at this point. Er, and by that, I mean, the shift to a cult of personality which transcends fandom. astolat for example.

I think it's a good thing, because while yes, it's balkanized, in some ways, it's also recombined fandom more closely than it ever was in mailing lists. There's a lot few degrees of separation now, at least for those primarily on lj.

I agree, but it's not like there weren't author specific mailing lists before. I think that LJ allows for more of this, ease of transition, no inbox filling up, etc. It helps facilitate a different sort of mesh, like the one I described in my previous comment.

I think it's the newsreader template of the friendslist that allows for it. Joining mailing lists was always a process even if you were already part of the system (had a yahoo account), friending an LJ isn't nearly the same effort and you get more than just stories, etc.

I also think, as an extension of my above comment, this has instigated things like shipper wars in whole new ways. Because you're far more likely to simply run into what you don't like on LJ.

Sure, there were author specific mailing lists--I'm still on one or two--but the level of discussion that the lj format allows far surpasses anything that could be accomplished in there. A person's lj is more than their fic repository now--it's also *them*, in a way that's more public and more unvarnished than anything a mailing list could do. And meta writers didn't have mailing lists of their own, and in lj, they're able to blossom as well, across several fandoms, with far more exposure. In some ways, I think lj is contributing to a much better allocation of fannish support, where people besides the fiction authors have far more opportunity to be read and be seen by a wide audience.

I'm still thinking on shipper wars. Mailing lists condensed it very much, almost claustrophobic, which allowed a lot of fast escalation adn long term consequences. I can't prove it, but I do think that lj, while it allows even faster escalation, by its nature burns it out faster too. The sheer variety of other stuff from our own flists can be distracting. And it's a lot easier to retreat and not see the conversation continue than a mailing list could provide.

You do know that we're pretty much agreeing right? *G*

Well that's what I was trying to say, an LJ is more than just a fic list, I'd even attribute that to communities. Mostly because of the 'open membership' that was so often NOT found in mailing lists. ML archives (even if membership was easy) were often property of the members and not nearly as accessible to the outside as LJ posts. LJ posts are google indexed even where MLs were not.

I don't think I meant to imply LJ has more shipper wars, I just think I see a new stresser forming based on how the content is handled. Like I and you said, the cult of an author. Thus getting more than one fandom, one pairing.

Also. Follow me here. You friend someone, they are exclusively one pairing. You share this pairing. One day they talk about New Show. Hey! You like New Show too! Awesome! Wait. No. They like what?? HOW COULD THEY LIKE WHAT???

This is an extreme example of how it's far easier to stumble across stuff you don't like/don't agree with and can quickly feel-- hmm-- weary of seeing things you're not into. Even IF you only sub to comms that serve your wants.

God yes. *sighs* And it happens on flist more than I like to think about, and with that comes the possible stress of unfriending, which is--yeah. Far more personal.

Actually, fandom *is* more personal now, when it's involved in ljs. That does actually switch it a bit from what I was thinking about shipper wars, or any hard line disagreement. In ML, you could, with enough effort, smother someone into silence or get them to leave. In LJ? Not so much. They can continue *forever*. And you might not see it, but someone on your flist is guaranteed to talk about it or open another meta point based on it.

Huh. Interesting thought there.

*nods* Yeah. Because there is no Mod of someone's personal LJ and the crowd ebs and flows far more than on a ML I think. I'd be curious to poll lurkers (I know, irony) how more likely they're lurk on MLs than in their own LJs. My theory is that they're pretty likely to talk about things (even under flick and the concentric and overlapping circles of flists means it will spread, even if slowly) in their own LJ that they'd never breath a word of comment on in LJ.

There's also no Archive. It was much easier to figure out if a list has taken on a subject if you cared to try. Because all comments on said list were accessible in one place.

Third and I think the most important difference is the point I made above, LJ isn't balkanized in the way MLs are. You get cross contamination across the board of fandoms, pairings, kinks, etc. One person on my flist might pimp the kink fest in their personal LJ, as is their right. But it's NOT my thing. And if I had a choice the way I had choices on ML list. I would not be on that list.

But it's LJ, and it's part and parcel of the package.

Hmm, theory. Discussions on LJ are like ripples in the LJ!pond. They never really go away, just float to other parts of the LJ!pond before they come back, changed by what they touched in the interim.

Ahh, then I can express my admiration personally. I read it about a year after I'd gotten into fandom and it's still my favorite essay on fanfic, and so absolutely relevant to all aspects of fannish existence, for that matter.

I like having context for it, too. A lot of meta I've done since on fanfic and fandom, especially when I was in Smallville, borrowed a lot from the concepts you outlined, especially the necessity of diversity. It's kind of my mental benchmark in how I approach fandom as well, even if I don't always live up to it; the absolute importance of being open and encouraging variety and challenging yourself to read/write/fan pursuit beyond your comfort zone, to look for things that are unfamiliar and I read far, far too much into it, didn't I? I guess the banquet metaphor stuck; that it's fine to like your favorites and stay with the hummus, but there's an entire table out there waiting, and trying the stew or the potato casserole or even the liver could lead to new favorites. And even if you don't like them, some people *do*, and them being there brings more people to the table that maybe don't like hummus but might be intrigued by the fish. And more people is good. In general.

Yes, I completely took it way too much to heart. But it's honestly, to me, the single best expression of the ideal of fandom and what we all should be striving for.

And it's utterly and terrifyingly *cool* to meet you seven years later. Thank you very much for the context and for the essay.

You definitely read more into it than I was specifically thinking about, but seriously, that is *so cool* to me! Because you're right; in a broader sense, it *is* about looking beyond your comfort zone and challenging yourself to do something more, and about the huge diversity in fandom, making fandom that much the richer.

This has been really interesting to read, all around.

And thank you so much for all the kind words! *beam* (I'm not that scary, I swear. *g*)

Actually, this is what made this the most fun: I was going through your webpage tonight and reading and going, wait, I remember reading this. Wait. And *this*. And I loved this! And ooh, the purple prose thing. I REMEMBER TESTING MY FIC AGAINST THAT TO SEE IF IT WAS PURPLE.

It's funny. And I enjoyed both your metas on fandom in lj. I have different views on some of it, mostly because I think Smallville was the first time I really embraced the social aspects of fandom completely, so LJ was how I was conditioned, more or less, but a lot of the problems I've had--especially regarding discussion--you nailed completely.

Years ago, when I first started in lj but was still active on the mailing lists, I did a meta on the sharp differences I'd found interacting between the two, and your metas reminded me a lot of the disassociation I'd felt then and I kind of think I want to revisit it now in perspective--how much I'd noticed then that is still going on, if what I'd predicted at the time had occurred or if I'd been completely wrong about it. It also reminded me of the way that the early slash mailing lists (I was het and usernet when I started and didn't go to slash really until Smallville) had formed a very different culture and very close groups that don't seem to form in lj as easily.

I'm rambling. I've seriously enjoyed reading your work and I'm thrilled you came over to give me more context for what I read. Thank you very much.

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