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Arrogance and editing. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Arrogance and editing.
Yesterday, I wrote about criticism. In the past, I have written about Not Doing the Research as being a form of appropriation. A wise comment from Matilda on yesterday’s post has drawn my attention; and impelled a conclusion. Whatever the excuse: ‘it’s only fanfic’; ‘the rest of us are simply trying to have fun’; ‘you, Wemyss-the-Killer-of-Joys, are harshing our squee’: there is in fact, at bottom, one reason and motive for people’s rejecting criticism and editing and the duty of research.


I am not saying that everyone who rejects criticism and editing and the duty of research is, personally, and wittingly, arrogant (or intending to engage in appropriation). It’s a habit most people pick up from others, and it is contagious.

But in its real roots, what drives this attitude?

That ‘it’s only fanfic’? That’s arrogance: a form of literary snobbery.

That ‘I’m publishing what I like’? Well, by publishing, you are expecting others to give of their time and attention in (and you are generally expecting to paid in ego-boosts for their) reading what you publish; if you consider that they want to be grateful for whatever you belch out, that’s a trifle arrogant, isn’t it.

And how arrogant is it to believe that having the common courtesy to do the research so as not to insult, deprecate, misrepresent, patronise, or appropriate a culture or subculture that is not one’s own, is optional? That it is not your own – although it is the canon source of your fandom – does not, unless you are swollen with arrogance beyond belief, mean it is inferior, and merits your colonisation … God damn you. This applies – and applies, all too often, all too pointedly – to Yanks writing in British-canon fandoms, to persons who are not gay or bi men writing slash, and to a whole slew of other Representative Classes of Fen.

Damn it all, there really is no other way of describing the idea that one is above or beyond or past or absolved from being criticised and edited, or from having performed one’s duty of research and given of one’s best, but arrogance. I am told that some BNFs regard themselves as above all this sort of thing. I can only say that they are morally indistinguishable from the BNP, if this is so.

Let me repeat something I said in a prior post:

One cannot be a hypocrite unknowingly, and most of fandom simply have not twigged to the fact that one cannot bang on disapprovingly about appropriation and cultural imperialism and then whinge whenever a Real Life Gayer criticises slash-fandom’s cultural appropriation of gayness and gay culture, or bridle when the Chairman of the Keep Potter British Campaign (hullo) objects to Americanisation. It remains the case that resenting and resisting calls to Do The Sodding Research in a fandom set in a country and society that is not one’s own, even if one’s position is Look, It’s Only a Hobby and We’re Just Having Fun and Why Must You Harsh Our Squee and Fuck Off, We Didn’t Sign Up to This to Do an FE Course in British Sociology, remains, quite simply, cultural imperialism: and most fen think that a bad thing.

I am not, I repeat, levelling charges of hypocrisy: only of literal thoughtlessness.

And now let me clarify that. It may be thoughtlessness: but the notion that it’s not worth thinking about, and then bothering with, is arrogance.

I’ve said before, in the seriesThere Is No Muse, and Other Unsettling Principles’, that there is a great deal of ‘idleness operating upon luxury’ in fandom, and this includes Refusing to Do the Tiresome Research, Darling, and Not Getting On Yer Bike. And I’ve noted time and again that

you really do want to employ the techniques and tricks of the social or criminological or military or political historian in your writing.

Put your characters in context, in the mental and physical landscape they would inhabit. What do they eat, read, believe? Where do they live? And – the historian’s question – how does this influence them? What past experiences shape them? I have been known to stress that Harry after the War educated himself to make up the deficiencies of his schooldays. I may tell you now that I do so because that is what Wellington did in India to make up for slacking through Eton and Angers, and what Winston did in India to make up for slacking through Harrow and Sandhurst. (I may say that when I am confronted with a text that contains fanboy Creeveys; a Ministerially-connected Cro(a)ker; a rather slack schoolboy (from a family that is no longer as celebrated as it had been) who goes on to defeat a famous tyrant who is supported by some of the upper classes in that youth’s own nation; and a man named Arthur W––sley, I should be a poor Briton indeed did I not think of Wellington.)

Context. For various reasons, including the statutory, every council in the kingdom publishes one or another sort of planning document or Landscape Character Assessment. Look if you like at Suffolk or the South Hams by way of example; or the village design statements for Great Bedwyn and for Swallowcliffe. If you wish to put your characters upon a canal, there are resources for that. Steam trains? Lor’, yes.

No historian worth his salt should imagine not knowing what his subjects read and eat and used for transport and grew for veg. and saw around them. Nor ought we: if all you know of treacle tart is the name, you don’t know Harry. (Note the ginger. Then consider Amortentia.) Yes, all right: it wants research. But not so very much; and it cuts down on agonising over plot, for when you know these things about your subjects or characters, you know already how they shall react and what they shall do in any situation. And then of course the devices used by historians in narrative, exampled above, clamour to be used and lead you to use them quite naturally. It’s all technique, and it’s a doddle;

meaning that, unless you really are bloody bone-idle, Doing the Research is not in fact a hardship.

And where does this indolence and idleness and luxury come from? Arrogance: the belief that the world, or at least the reading public, owes you an effortless sodding living, simply because You Are Special and Ought to Be Paid Simply For Blessing Us With Your Existence. Balls. Such utter balls it’s married to Yvette Cooper. Get the fuck over yourself.

If you believe you write only to please yourself, have at it: but don’t publish it and expect others to waste time on it if you can’t be arsed to edit it, to have it edited, and to have polished it. That sort of self-pleasure, like other forms of wanking, wants to be kept to yourself, not incontinently obtruded into the lives of the rest of us.

And for God’s sake, stop calling critics and editors and the advocates of standards, research, editing, criticism, and doing the research, ‘elitist’ and ‘bullying’ and ‘intimidating’ and ‘arrogant’. Look in a glass – mirror, to some – instead, if you want a proper recipient of those epithets.

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52 comments or Leave a comment
birdsofshore From: birdsofshore Date: August 16th, 2013 04:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gosh, I am quite taken aback by the viciousness in these posts. It's not what I'm used to seeing in this fandom. I don't really know what to say beyond that.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 05:13 pm (UTC) (Link)


De gustibus, I suppose. In the main, I'd tend to presume that anyone who objects to my points, or fails to see why I am rather impatient with fandom, is guilty of the faults condemned; but to my knowledge you are blessedly free of those faults. I regret you misliked my posts.
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: August 16th, 2013 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
@edballsmp: Ed Balls
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: August 16th, 2013 05:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wot, you mean this isn't Twitter?
eglantine_br From: eglantine_br Date: August 16th, 2013 05:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not vicious. Right, I think. (And well put as usual.)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 05:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm obliged.

But of course tastes and judgements differ, and what a boring world it were did they not.
germankitty From: germankitty Date: August 16th, 2013 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)


For all our differences in other areas, I couldn't agree more.

Yes, fanfiction is supposed to be "for fun" -- or better, for the love of the source. We don't make money off it, we aren't forced to do it, we can walk away at any time with no major repercussions. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it right.

Deviate from canon as much as you like (while keeping true to the characters; a fluffy Snape or a wimpy Hermione might as well be original characters, IMO), put the characters in whatever outlandish scenario you want, but for the love of little ponies, do your readers at least the courtesy of employing proper language, spelled right and with correct grammar!

And while I have reluctantly learned to overlook the occasional gaffe in regards to available technology in the HP canon universe if the fic is otherwise captivating enough, I draw the line (and hit the back button) at things like "driving along King George motorway" -- a splendid *cough* example of research done sloppily, I think -- or simply applying whatever the author's cultural norms to the HP universe.

I can grudgingly live with American spelling in my British-based fandom(s); after all, nobody in the US complained about my then-British spelling in US-based fandoms. The courtesy of acceptance should go both ways, and rightly so ... and after all, it's a comparatively minor thing.

But let's me honest -- aren't we all that little bit more enthusiastic and appreciative about fics that GET IT RIGHT? Where the cultural background is dead on, where the music, and films, and fashion, and technology is 100% accurate, or at least nearly so? The average reader may not even realize fully WHY such a fanfic is, or rather feels, better than others which are more cavalier about the little details. And I think nobody will disagree that a story which is written well as far as SPaG is concerned is so much more delightful than one which isn't.

None of us is perfect; mistakes happen. But if I want to share my writing with the public, it ought to be my duty to deliver the best thing I can.

"Just good enough" all too often ... just isn't.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 06:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you.

I must confess that my disbelief ceases to be suspended and comes down with a thump when Dean, say, is the drum major of the Hogwarts Marching Band.

And my heart rises - sursum corda to your amen - when I see things such as 'None of us is perfect', with the correct grammatical number, bless you.
josephinestone From: josephinestone Date: August 16th, 2013 08:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
“I have had some criticism from other British writers about allowing any changes at all, but I feel the natural extension of that argument is to go and tell French and Danish children that we will not be translating Harry Potter, so they’d better go and learn English,” Rowling says.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

Apples and oranges, rather.

(And, oddly, that is not rhyming slang for anything: largely, I suspect, because of the famous difficulty of rhyming anything with 'oranges'.)

Imprimis, it's a false comparison between translation and Making Condescending Changes On the Presumption That Yanks Are Dim. These are different things.

Secundum, it's a false comparison between editing the MS (my topic) and what happens after. La Rowling was much better served, as some of the books all too well reflect, when her editors were not overawed by her and did not let her get things over on them.

I'm fond of Jo's characters and much of the actual story, but a woman who honestly believed that Gordon Brown was a political messiah, cannot really be credited with penetrating insight or much in the way of brain, can she.

(If I recall, amongst the other UK authors who were unimpressed by these changes were Sir Pterry and Amis fils. I know whose judgement I trust the more. It's not JKR's.)
froganon From: froganon Date: August 16th, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC) (Link)


Finally, I've started writing fanfic of a sort. It is best described as an alternate history of the Ed Snowden saga. I've been having some fun with it.

Although so far I've stuck him in places [hiding out] that I have some familiarity with in real life.

Your comments can apply also to anyone who is borrowing from the cultures of others-- there is a word that is harsher than borrowing but I cannot recall it at the moment, the aphasia it sucks-- ah, appropriating is one of the words but not quite the one I was looking for.

At any rate, here I am thinking of so many people here w European ancestry who want to be considered as having descended from the Indigenous folks of North America. We have quite a few "indians" over here who are basically fantasizing their own borrowed and misappropriated spirituality, right down to the medicine wheels and peace pipes and so forth.

But I don't feel that degree of harshness toward fanfic writers who jump cultures, only toward the fake "indians" that we have here who don't even know enough that the word "indian" is not used among the various tribes. Sigh.

I did not take your post as harsh. Merely a call for fan fic writers to do the research that is the mark of anything that is well-written.

Even writers of total fantasy worlds have certain rules and elements within those worlds which would correspond to our physics I think.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 17th, 2013 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)


To write fiction is, indeed, not the same thing as being a pseud.

Spot on.
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: August 17th, 2013 06:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
What am I going to do with my grandniece? When she was four, the sentences she pieced together out of words she copied from book covers and labels were completely adorable, and since I immersed her in the Harry Potter world, her sentences were like pre-fanfic.

She lives Down South now, and has started to write actual fan fiction. She's thirteen, a product of the American public education system, and loves Twilight. Yes, shudder.

I want her to continue to write, but I want her to write properly. American children nowadays are very sensitive to attacks on their "self-esteem" (translation: correct my work and I'll grow up to be a serial killer.)

Love, pride, embarrassment.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 17th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Tough love...

... and a copy of Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language', perhaps?
germankitty From: germankitty Date: August 17th, 2013 07:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Show her good fanfic, maybe? Gen, of course, and up to PG-13 only. It's how I introduced my son to fanfic at that age, just to get him to read English (which is, after all, a foreign language to us). He's never caught the writing bug, but he is studying to become an English teacher. :-)
52 comments or Leave a comment