So I’ve mentioned before in various places that I do, in fact, actively write fanfic under a Sekret Alias1 that I keep separate for Reasons. The main relevant thing about Sekret Alias is that it’s my relaxation space; it has pretty much no social media presence, and I do nothing to actively promote the fics I write and post there, to “network” in fandom spaces,2 or whatever. Because all of that stuff is the stuff I find exhausting and disheartening about profic, so gods know I don’t want to do any of it in my downtime.
Which is a big tl;dr introductory paragraph to this (now somewhat old) discussion about the rising trend in fandom to do exactly all of that marketing and promotion and oh gods even just reading about it makes me feel old and tired.
I’ve also mentioned before, elsewhere, that I think the incursion of predatory capitalism into fandom spaces is something that isn’t discussed enough within fandom spaces themselves. And it’s not just the proliferation of commercial activity in, specifically, transformative fandom spaces (and specifically specifically, fanfic) where it’s previously been Extremely Frowned Upon. Even things like anti discourse—this idea there can only be One True Pairing performed in One True Way—is I think interesting to examine in the context of capitalist marketplace-of-ideas theory, and specifically how it relates to the drive to dominate a market to become the sole player and thus monopolize all said market’s capital (“attention is capital in the marketplace of ideas” and all that).3 Which, yanno. I’m not saying, with appropriate self-awareness, is the sole or only or even necessarily most convincing way of explaining that phenomenon, but I think it is an interesting lens to look at it through, and one I haven’t seen very often.
For people who’ve grown up under the monopolies of Amazon and Facebook and Google, in other words, how could it not seem natural that the only way to deal with “competition”—even in so trivial a “market” as fandom shipping—is to entirely obliterate it?
(And this isn’t even getting into aggressive corporate expansion into consumptive fandom spaces, which has grown to unprecedented levels in the last decade or so, and I don’t believe hasn’t filtered down to impact other aspects of fandom as well. Ditto impacts from the move to performing fandom in siloed corporate platforms, e.g. Twitter and Tumblr and Patreon and so on, as opposed to personal, non-corporate, and/or distributed spaces.)
Basically what I’m saying here is that I’m Old and because I’m Old I deeply dislike and deeply distrust the incursion of big-C Capital into fandom, while at the same time being extremely conscious of the fact that even being able to hold that position is in-and-of-itself privileged. I have a day job that—while it has other issues—ticks off my “eating and sleeping” boxes for me, as well as allows me a portion of downtime that I can spend on “hobbyist” activities like writing free fanfic.4
Opting out of capitalist structures, in other words, is all-too-often a luxury of those who’re already comfortable under capitalism. And it’s not just about money; it’s about attention, kudos, comments, recs, “visibility” and the like. The stuff that, y’know, is not-at-all coincidentally referred to as “social capital”. Hence, y’know. The rise and rise and rise of things like comments discourse and blackhat AO3 SEO.
Capitalism won’t eat fandom, in other words. But it is irreversibly changing it…
- I’ve mentioned the name of it in public, out loud, exactly once. And if you think you’ve figured it out, and ask me about it in private, I’ll confirm it, probably. No one ever has. ^
- I do respond to comments on AO3, mostly, and emails and asks and similar direct communications. ^
- This does not, incidentally, conflict in any way with the Usual Standard Explanation for anti discourse, which is that it’s a weird side-effect of the rise of extreme right-wing religiosity in, specifically, the US. Like, pointing out that capitalism in-and-of-itself is a Extremely Protestant Byproduct is not, as it happens, a new or controversial thing… ^
- And, yanno. Also free “pro” fic. Which… have you ever noticed how much of the pro fiction industry relies on profiting off the free labor of the people within it? Because, yeah. This is not an issue that’s magically somehow restricted only to fandom. ^