First off, two of my beliefs:
1. Artists have no privileges and damn few rights, and that's how it should be. The audience always makes what it will of the work.
2. All artists learn by doing fan art. We imitate work we admire to acquire the skill to make work others might admire.
Which is to say that fanfic and author's rights are issues that don't interest me. I've seen fanfic that I thought was brilliant, and I'm flattered when I hear someone's done fanfic based on something of mine, but I don't seek out fanfic.
However, theories of privilege have fascinated me all my life.
Renay says two things relevant to Duncan's response and what I'll rant about:
1. "Once I read a work, that work is mine. I'm going to interpret it my way, disregard authorial intention, embrace alternate readings of the canonical facts, and probably consider writing explicit fanfic about characters an author likely never intended to be together."
2. "Over the last few years, we've been watching creators slip into our communities and our social circles; sometimes we invite them in and sometimes we don't, but as some book blogs, born from fannish beginnings and with fannish goals, become industry blogs, we'll continue to see incidents where creators step in and find themselves the target of severe discomfort that takes form as anger and hostility."
Duncan says early in his post:
Privilege? The article is asserting it: "Because once I read a work, that work is mine. I'm going to interpret it my way, disregard authorial intention, embrace alternate readings of the canonical facts, and probably consider writing explicit fanfic about characters an author likely never intended to be together." (My italics.) The article lacks the bold-faced audacity to forego the weasel words of "probably" and "consider," and just say, "I'll damn well slash your characters if I wanna and chuck it on the interwebs for all to see," but that's just the angst of repercussions that it's hard not to see as the "discomfort" in question. Maybe that's not the "discomfort" intended, but authorial intent can hardly be a defence here. And my reading is not born of a defence of authorial intent; it's born of the fact that "severe discomfort that takes form as anger and hostility" is typical of entitlement's response to challenge. The privilege of authors is in play here. It's just that the authors in question are the article's author, the author of the Aaronovitch review she references, and those who write their work from that same stance of entitlement, whether it's fiction or non-fiction.He concludes:
What's really more damning to me is to see a professional magazine with a strong progressive ethos publishing an article like Renay's that springs out of that outburst of entitlement, spilling out its own entitled advocacy of entitlement, and with the same posturing of victimhood. That article: asserts a privilege of appropriation over any artist; rejects not just authorial intent but authorial ownership, asserting as a right the "non-author's" capacity to fetishize/demonize/straightiron a gay author's gay characters; justifies prejudice as a response to challenges to that privilege; rewrites the history whereby that privilege became so entrenched that privacy is no longer even required; laments the discomfort where the extended privilege of no legal challenge doesn't extend to a privilege of no challenge at all; suggests we salve that discomfort via more privilege by establishing a principle that everything from a specific book blog to Tumblr as a whole is basically a bastion of authorial privilege.
Because, yes, the solution to the angst of privileged authors of appropriative work and bad faith critique that distorts its subject in the lens of privileged appropriation... when those entitled boors can't even deal with an author diffidently requesting they rethink... the solution is to deny response rights to a class of authors who respect the rigours of discourse so as to cosset this other class of authors claiming exemption from such rigours.I love the way Duncan takes the language of privilege theory to answer someone whose assumptions grow from it. I'll happily go further. Renay's attitude toward living writers is that of colonialists, imperialists, and cultural appropriators: she says she'll take what she wants because she wants it, regardless of the intent or the love of its creators.
Now, I think appropriation is how cultures and artists grow, so that doesn't bother me at all.
But hypocrisy does.
She doesn't just want to take. She wants to silence the people she's taking from. She objects to their objections. She doesn't just want to take. She wants to be respected for taking. It's a social justice warrior thang—they demand respect while refusing to give it.
If you respect a living artist, respect that artist's attitude toward their art. Here's an analogy that's probably not as good as I would like it to be. For decades, my writing group has used the phrase "you can go out in that shirt." It means a story's ready to be submitted to an editor or to be published. If I went into someone's closet, took a shirt that person had made with love, wrapped it around a monkey like a diaper, took a photo, washed the shirt, and replaced it without the original person knowing what I had done, I would not be surprised if the person happened upon the photo later and did not think it was as amusing or as inventive as I did. It wouldn't matter if I loved both the monkey and the shirt and didn't intend any mockery. The person who made the shirt did not intend for it to be a monkey's diaper, and really shouldn't be faulted for responding to what I'd done.
This reminds me of Piss Christ and Victoria's Secret's use of American Indian headdresses.
I have no objection to Piss Christ or repurposing headdresses. Piss Christ seemed like Andres Serrano just wanted to offend someone, and the world of high fashion is so artificial that everything it references is either demeaned or effectively untouched—I favor the latter, because, like the novels that are not ruined by Hollywood because the books are still safe on the shelves of book lovers, sacred symbols are not weakened when they're treated without the reverence given them by the people who love them.
But the people who love those symbols as part of their identity still have a right to complain.
Fanfictionists who demand silence from creators are no different than Serrano or the designer behind the Victoria's Secret show. What they do is new, but it takes from others, and they should not be surprised when creators object.
An aside: I just showed the picture of the Victoria's Secret model to Emma, who rolled her eyes and laughed and pointed out something I'd missed: The mishmash of appropriation, a Plains headdress with Southwestern jewelry, is even greater than it looks. That silver work? Appropriated by the Navajo from the Spanish, who appropriated it from the Moors.
In the comments on her post, Renay tells Ben Aaronovitch that creators should simply stay out of public conversations of their work: "There is no need for creators to do sophisticated traffic analysis to know whether or not they should comment on a fan discussion. All it requires is empathy. Were you invited explicitly to the discussion? No? Then don't comment."
Charlie Stross responds,