YALSA Conf report – FANDOM

I first heard of the world of fandom two years ago, but did not think much about it until this session. The world has existed for a long time. Many teens have grown up in a remix culture. A world where they have been able to build an AU or alternate universe where they change the words, outcomes, characters, etc. at will, for as long as they have been reading. AU – alternate universe, is part of the fandom vocabulary.  Yes, this world has its own language, a big part of it’s community aspect that draws followers in. Including crossover, where two different worlds/books are are intermingled in one story.

Tumblr has become the de facto one-stop home for fandom. In addition to the ever popular transformations of Twilight and Harry Potter, there are fandoms for books as well as TV shows, movies, and musical groups. This includes classics such as Sherlock Holmes, Twelfth Night, Othello, Don Quixote, Jane Eyre, and Turn of the Screw. Fan created work includes art, prose and poetry. It is a community with people writing, editing and reading.

All of which makes fandom a low-pressure platform for teen writers and readers.

The original source work is considered the “cannon” – unchangeable. Fans take the cannon and apply their individual interpretations. As long as fandom is “non economic” the courts tend to keep distant fro what is considered transformative work, protected under copyright “fair use” clauses. Aside from a few early legal incidents, fandom and the publishing world exist in a state of detente.  The law has not been fully tested yet; almost no on wants to find out what the courts would say if a case went the distance. In some cases publishers are embracing fandom and even hosting fan contests.  They have gone from trying to do “cease and desist” and getting fan sites shut down, to “how can we participate and grow the fan base?”

People read fan created work for different reasons than they read commercial fiction. Many people love a good AU – alternative universe where their favorite characters strive. Fandom is easily read on the phone and in short spurts. Most who write fandom are in it “for the love of the game.” In the process, they learn that anyone can create, and that can be good and empowering for teens. One fan was quoted as saying, “when the spirit moves you, you create, even if its a 500 word dribble about werewolves in space.”  Another mentioned that while maybe 90% of the works are awful (bad grammar, tons of exposition, no plot), 10% is “worth dying for.” I couldn’t help thinking of the potential this media has for enticing reluctant readers, enticing them to get interested enough that they go seek out the cannon and possibly become writers themselves.

I said I had not heard of fandom before, but the more I learned, the more I realized I have participated in the practices since my own teen years. Just not in a community. My head is filled with my own favorite characters in an AU I created. It’s a crossover since I just keep putting new characters into the same universe and watching them live their new lives. I understand the joy of a good ship, putting together coupes from different eras, books, genres, and letting them find true love.

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