NOTE: the reasons length of proposals differ widely is different conference guidelines! Some set short limits (250 words), some are less restrictive (1-2 pages), etc.
Racefail 09 Part Nth: Citizenship Fail
This presentation is part of a larger project that begins to address a major gap in fan studies scholarship: the lack of analysis of interactions between minority group and majority group members in fandoms. The focus of the larger work is the debate known as Racefail 09. The methodology is a corpus stylistics approach which uses a program to annotate text files in order to generate quantitative results. The methodology analyzes patterns in writing rather than intent, resulting in a pattern analysis of aggregated data. I am currently in the pilot stage, and this presentation will present background on race discussions in fandoms, the theoretical and methodological framework, and the results of a descriptive analysis of a recent post by Elizabeth Moon and the response to her post.
Moon's post, titled "Citizenship," began by musing on what makes a good citizen in the U.S. and then turned to accusations about "Muslims" and/or "immigrants" who did not assimilate properly. Over 500 responses were posted before Moon deleted them all. Screen captures of the responses were saved and re-posted. My analysis of the responses to Moon's post will focus on an issue raised by K. Tempest Bradford: the claims that anti-racists in fandom "attack" white authors/editors/fans who do not intend to be racist. My analysis will focus on quantifying categorizing agreement/disagreement and patterns of "name calling" and any other type of verbal abuse in contrast to developed counter-arguments. I expect to find that, despite white male authors/critics' claims to the contrary, that the vast majority of posts made by identified anti-racists are neither abusive nor limited to name-calling.
Rhetorics of Social Justice Debates in Anonymous Fan Memes Online
This presentation considers the extent to which the pre-internet social definitions of private and public, global and local, have changed on the internet. Some perceive the internet as a utopian space that can enable unprecedented forms of participatory democracy (Henry Jenkins). Jenkins has argued, in Convergence Culture, for the usefulness of studies of online science fiction/fantasy fandoms because so many in those groups were early adopters of new technologies and because of what their interactions and communities can show about the larger issues of people accessing new technologies to participate in media production and, potentially, political actions.
Fans who participate in social justice discussions state their intent of trying to change the dynamics of "fandom" (offline and online), framing sff fandom as a type of local community despite the international demographics. My rhetorical analysis of some critiques of social justice debates will focus on a single community. This community originated with fans who perceived their ability to speak freely about social justice issues as being limited by the ways some Big Name Fans (BNF) can send groups of people to harass anyone who disagrees with them. They see the need for the freedom of anonymity because of power hierarchies in fandom. The critiques and controversies include: whether posting about social justice issues online is useful (compared to offline volunteer or activist activities in a local community); how the dominance of American fans has led to marginalization of fans from other countries and, in social justice discussions, how American assumptions continue marginalization; whether an individual's own journal or blog is private or public (this question is made more complex by the fact that the LiveJournal and Dreamwidth platforms allow a user to control access to posts made in their journals, and thus to discussion) compared to community discussions (which may also be locked down). The study of this community certainly speaks to the issue of how some forms of rhetoric can affect aspects of social justice.
Background: Many science fiction/fantasy fans who are active in online media fandom in a variety of social networks/platforms publish their work under fannish pseudonyms rather than the legal names. While outsider dismiss this choice as cowardly, many fans have good reasons to separate their public fannish activities from their public or professional activities conducted under their legal names. Since some areas of online fandom are predominantly female (including those producing stories and videos, some of which are controversial in content), and since research shows women are more likely to be harassed on (and off)-line, the choice of fannish pseudonyms in internet fandom is understood by many as a commonplace safety choice. The fannish pseudonym ("fan pseud") is not seen as the same thing as being anonymous because a fan can have years of history and production and interaction under her pseudonym. Many "reserve" their pseudonyms on new social networks even if they do not intend to make use of them, simply to make sure they control the name. In contrast to fans who participate in fandom under a pseudonym, there are those who participate anonymously (of course, some do both).
One type of event that has caused controversy over the years is the "anonomeme." There are two basic categories: a named fan can start an "anonymous" thread in her journal, with the program set to allow anonymous posting and with IP tracking turned off. These are often either "hate" or "love" threads that invite fans to express their emotions about other fans anonymously. Another category is the anonymous community: fans operating under pseudonyms that are not their primary ones will start a community which is established solely to allow people to post anonymously. These are controversial because some of the posts are simple attacks on other, named (pseudonymous) fans; however, there are also spaces in the communities where many fans have the opportunity to post anonymously what they do not dare to post under their fan pseuds, exploring ideas and positions that are perceived to be dangerous to express in fandom or that have led to so much controversy in the past that discussion is seen as impossible outside an anonymous space.
This presentation proposes to examine the major rhetorical patterns in a recent anonymous community (started July 5, 2010) called "Fail_Fandomanon." This community originated in the frustration many fans experienced with a controversy in fandom concerning disabilities issues and access issues in a small vidding con (VividCon). The controversy connects to a larger project I am working on relating to race/racism in online media fandom, a controversy that is often discussed in Fail_Fandomanon.
Part of the rhetorical framing of the community is that a small (or large) group of fans who are actively posting about social justice issues (race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, but rarely class) have created an environment in which many fans are afraid to speak about any issues because of the chance of "dogpiling" (a term which describes a lot of people a fan does not know showing up to fight/argue/call names in private/personal journals). The participants distinguish their own interests in social justice from the exaggerated and hyperbolic behaviors of a specific group (described as American, white, middle-class women, college educated, and on occasion "acafans" -- fans who are also academics who publish about fandom). This group is referred to as the "SJ" group or "SJ LJ or DW" group (referring to Livejournal and Dreamwidth, two social networking sites). This group, perceived as having negative influences on online media fandom through recurring and public and large "fails" (a three-month debate about racism in 2009 is called "Racefail 09) is the focus of the anonymous communities desire to "blow off steam" (community profile) without public controversy.
The Fail Fandom community is active: since its founding in July 2010, there have been 19 entries; while that may not seem like much, each entry has approximately 5100 comments (while a LJ discussion may have up to 10,000 comments, that amount loads very slowly, so the moderators (mods) start a new entry/page when the discussion hits 5000 comments. The purpose of an entry is simply to give a new space for discussion: in a little over five months, the community has logged about 95,000 comments.
The anonymity means that it is impossible to track how many different people post, but my methodology does not require a study of people: I am doing a rhetorical analysis of the community involving a basic count of the top level threads (LJ has a threaded-discussion format), and then developing closer readings of the threads which focus primarily on SJ fandom as a whole, or individual SJ fans, to see what types of arguments exist in this anonymous space.
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York U P. 2006.
BOTH DOCUMENTS ARE PROPOSAL/ABSTRACT DRAFTs ONLY. BECAUSE OF MOST ACADEMIC JOURNAL'S POLICIES REGARDING 'PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED' MATERIAL, FULL DRAFTS OF ESSAYS WILL NOT BE POSTED HERE. EVENTUALLY, A RACEFAIL CORPUS WIKI OR EQUIVALENT WILL BE CREATED FOR SHARING DATA. EVENTUALLY, IN ACADEMIC TIME MEASUREMENT, MEANS PROBABLY THREE TO FIVE YEARS FROM NOW.
Link page for racefail scholarship