From boing-boing comment:
If fanfic wants to be something that expresses a love of / obsession with a particular cultural product and reinforces a shared, often subcultural, identity built around it - which is surely, what fanfic is - then it is unlikely to have much impact beyond that. But as soon as it starts to mean something independent of the original product, it ceases to be fanfic and becomes part of wider culture. Exactly like most of the things on this list, whatever their origins.
A lot of arguments about fanfic revolve around the idea of the lack of creativity--which is absurd--the lack of quality--because pro novels are uniformly good, let me refer you to Brian Fucking Herbert before you even bother--but this one, this one....
But as soon as it starts to mean something independent of the original product, it ceases to be fanfic and becomes part of wider culture.
No, it ceases to be fanfic when authors can legally publish it and potentially get paid for it. Diane Duane's Spock's World had exactly as much context to wider culture as D'Alaire's Voyager fic Word Painter.
Cofax goes into the context bit here, which I agree with and keep thinking I want to add to, but it's more complicated than that.
Derivative works already mean something independent of the original product; that's why they were written. So it comes back to the context issue; a derivative work isn't fanfic if it can stand alone without context.
I could say this; all fiction requires context.
I could say this; some fiction requires more context than others.
I could use this: tell me that Apocalypse Now would work if you were not American, did not know the military existed, and lived on the moon. Fiction accesses context consciously and unconsciously all the time, from general cultural context to historical context to language context--Bastard Out of Carolina, hard Southern: Mairelon the Magician, cockney: Ghost Story, very British. The Yellow Wallpaper requires knowing about the treatment of women by society and the patriarchy in the nineteenth century; Raj needs a basic understanding of India's state under British rule and the effects of colonialism.
And samdonne's Your Cowboy Days Are Over requires some understanding of colonialism and Stargate: Atlantis.
At some point, someone needs to just admit it; it's not about context, and in some ways, it's not even about copyright; it's the subculture around fanfic that makes it unacceptable. Derivative fiction that comes out of mainstream is literary and critical and meaningful and art; derivative fiction that comes out of fanfic communities isn't.
Or as one poster put it:
I read (and watch, and listen to) plenty of things that aren't pushing any artistic boundaries. But I don't pretend it's anything more than popcorn, and for the most part the producers don't pretend it's anything more than popcorn.
Yeah. I miss coffee right now.
ETA: Link corrected.
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