Monday, March 21, 2011

Morality and Fan Fiction

My favourite new word is usufruct. As well as being funny to look at, it means "The right to use and enjoy another's property without destroying it. " It's a legal term usually applied in terms of land. 
To me, it also defines what fan fiction is. 
(This post began as a thorn on the side of the previous post. I figured that it was too much of a tangent, though, and detached it so that instead of a thorn it might be a...I don't know, a pointy thing with an independent nature of its own.)
The discussion here is going to be simply "Is fan fiction wrong?" Is it really possible to "use another's property" without "destroying it"?  As someone who writes the stuff in most of my available free time, I basically have to say that it is. But what of the question of copyright? Aren't derivative works infringing on another author's ideas? 
What about the numerous spinoffs of things like The Wizard of Oz? In this case, the text and world are in the public domain because the text is of a certain age or, as Cracked.com said, the author has died of the plague. 
For me, the moral issue is usually bypassed. Do I think George Lucas might be miffed that I'm using his world? Maybe. But I'm having fun. I'm not making money either, although yes I would very much like to. Nor am I overstepping his strict content boundaries.  
What it comes down to for me is whether I would mind if someone wrote fanfic based on my work.
And, honestly? 
I'm not sure. I know I would want that work to adhere to my own moral standards. Let's clear something up here. I'm not for bowdlerization. I'm for morality, but I don't go around telling people they can't do things either. (At least, I don't any more.) 
Now, I haven't heard of anyone else who holds this opinion, but it's alway been my unspoken assumption that fan fiction should hold exactly to the moral standards of the canon that it is based on. Meaning, since you don't often see blood in Star Wars, you shouldn't often see it in Star Wars fan fiction. Since you see blood relatively often in Halo, it's fine to see it in the fanfic as well. Same goes for the level of nudity etc. in whatever fandom you're writing for. Keep it to the original; that way, you're not overstepping the bounds the author created. Those bounds exist in terms of morality as much as they do in terms of other kinds of content. For example, excessive gore in the Zoids universe is, in my opinion, just as strange as excessive Jedi in the Zoids universe.  
The argument can be made that canons like Halo, Mass Effect, and Harry Potter do not have moral standards because they exist in an alternate or future version of the real universe, which does not itself have a moral standard. 
Star Wars, however, is different in many ways, one of which that it takes steps to distance itself from the real world. "A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" is the analog to the fairy tale beginning "once upon a time". It really means that there are no physical or temporal connections between that universe and ours. The Expanded Universe reinforces this by making up as many thinly-veiled ripoffs of real analogies as possible. George Lucas does this by insisting that all of the EU follow his moral standard. And you know what? I'm okay with that. The derivative material, regardless of whether it is authorized or not, should be on the same moral level as the original. 
So, assuming that the moral stuff in terms of content is out of the way, would I mind if someone made money off of my ideas? Again, the instant first response is I have purchased unlicensed fan art. Therefore I have to say no. But regardless of that? 
I'm not sure. I'm not in a position to react to that. But my immediate response is this:
Not if I had a work popular enough that there was a huge, money-generating fandom around it. Mostly, I want to be remembered. And fandom guarantees that. It is memory in action. It is inspiration in action, ideas that you can watch being transferred from one mind to another, and changed to fit that mind and what it alights on-- fandom is a tracking system for how writers think. 

This is one of the reasons why I love it.  

If the canon is a piece of land, we the writers are just using it according to usufruct -- not possessing, just using without destroying. 

13 comments:

  1. I'm inclined to believe that our universe does have a moral standard--it's just that most of us choose to ignore it.

    I don't think I would really mind fan fiction of my work--if anything, I would ignore it for the most part. I don't like the idea of cracking down on people and being totalitarian in telling them what they absolutely can and cannot write, especially if they're doing so for private, personal reasons and don't intend their work to be read by an audience (whether an audience in general, or even by other members of the fandom). That means that yes, people are going to write ridiculously, sometimes obscenely strange stuff. But that's their choice. And because what they're writing does not and will never affect the canon of what they're writing about (no, those two characters will never have romantic feelings toward each other no matter how many teenage girls want them to), I'm under no obligation whatsoever to mind them (much less read what they write).

    I dunno, maybe I'm just too lenient.

    Although, I do appreciate that there are at least some people out there who actually care about sticking to a universe's morality when writing fan fiction of it.

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  2. Hmm. What I mean by our universe not having a moral standard is that while God does decree what we should and should not do, people will go and do things anyway. The universe would have a moral standard if there was a law, something as unsurpassable as the speed of light, that specifically forbade amoral actions. A giant George Lucas in the sky, for example, bowdlerizing everything with red pen. God doesn't prevent people from doing bad things; thus our free will and our lack of moral standard. The characters in Star Wars have no free will because they do have a moral standard. Maybe "moral cap" is a better term.

    Wow. Er. I didn't mean to make the Lucas/God metaphor right there, I really didn't. But does that make any sense, and define my use of the term better?

    You're free to be lenient if you want to. ^_^ I'm just curious about other people's opinions on the subject. I'd like to think that I could keep my opinions of my own canon uncorrupted even if I read fanfic of it, but I'm not honestly sure I could. And I'd go start reading the stuff out of pure curiosity and a bit of vanity.

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  3. I think "moral cap" would be a better term. "Moral ceiling" (or rather "moral floor") even, maybe. "Standard" denotes something that is the norm or the accepted level of something (whatever or whoever it is that's doing the accepting), but that does not disallow deviations above or below that level.

    Buuuuuuut this is a literature blog and not a theology/philosophy blog so I should probably stop.

    I didn't notice the metaphor, but I do understand what you were getting at, don't worry.

    I'd be awfully presumptuous if I said I wouldn't want to check out what fans were doing with my canon. I think it would take a large deal of integrity, though, to do so and not start to bend canon to fans' whims (which may be a large part of the reason why most writers don't do that--well, that, and I'm sure that they just don't have the time to go around reading fan fiction).

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  4. You're right. Future discussion will use the word "moral ceiling" instead. (I like that one. I picture little ghostly things bobbing around said ceiling.)

    I just didn't expect to get into whether Star Wars characters have free will or not! Haha, I don't think anyone's discussed that before.

    You're right. Probably time is also a big issue.

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  5. I agree wholeheartedly. I feel really silly replying to such a long and intelligent post with "I agree wholeheartedly", but I don't know how to word what I'm thinking, and I'm really good at confusing the people around me, and myself. :S

    I don't think I'd like it if people wrote fan fiction about my original work and totally destroyed it by creating slash pairings and mature content. I'd want them to keep it the same, with their own spin on it. You know what I'm saying?

    Hmm.
    Ji Xin has beautiful eyes.

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  6. Thank you! It's fine. I appreciate that you say whatever you feel. ^_^

    I see what you mean there, and agree. As mentioned above, I'd want fanfic writers of my stuff to keep to the "moral cap"...or at least, I'd like to only see the work that does.

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  7. My pleasure. c:

    Yeah...
    Otherwise, I'd feel as if they had ruined my story, and my characters somehow, even though it's not official work. I like to keep a standard, and I want my work to be suitable for younger readers without all that... crap. I'd probably feel angry, but starting a fight would do no good. A tough situation. But I suppose, in the end, we'd just have to move on.

    I wonder if that will ever happen with my work. (If I ever actually *finish* a story and get it published!)

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  8. I wrote a HUGE comment and it didn't post. ARGH

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  9. I'D BE FINE WITH PEOPLE DOING UNSPEAKABLE THINGS TO MY CHARACTERS BECAUSE IRL THE WORLD IS FILLED WITH UGLY, GRAPHIC, FASCINATING THINGS AND I LIKE REALISM AND LUCAS CAN DO WHATEVER HE WANT WITH HIS UNIVERSE BECAUSE HE CREATED IT AND ALSO BECAUSE HE IS RICH. IF HE WANTS TO CENSOR WHAT GETS PUBLISHED THAT'S AOK. BUT IT WOULDN'T BE 'UNREALISTIC' FOR A FANFIC WRITER TO GET...WELL, MORE REALISTIC.

    I'D BE WORRIED ABOUT STEALING IDEAS FROM FANFIC WRITERS WRITING ABOUT MY STUFF. BUT MOSTLY I'D BE HONORED.

    BUT WRITING A REALISTIC STORY IN THE STAR WARS CANON THAT INVOLVED BLOOD OR SEX OR EVEN HOMOSEXUALITY (DEPENDING ON CHARACTER) WOULD NOT BE HARD AT ALL I DON'T THINK. THAT IS A VERY WELL-ROUNDED WORLD EVEN I MUST ADMIT, VERY WHOLE. WATCHING THOSE MOVIES I JUST SORT OF ASSUMED THAT THEY WOULD BE CURSING IF NOT FOR THE MOVIE RATINGS. WHEN PEOPLE DIE, OFTEN THERE'S BLOOD.

    ALSO SOME METAPHOR ABOUT STANDING ON A PILE OF TWITCHING SOLDIERS IN ASSASSIN'S CREED. THERE, THAT WAS MY VERY LONG COMMENT THAT DIDN'T POST.

    /ragelock

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  10. ...wow, that was just not any shorter at all.

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  11. I AGREE TO RESPECTFULLY DISAGREE WITH MOST OF YOUR COMMENT EXCEPT THE PART ABOUT LUCAS KNOWING WHAT HE IS DOING AND THE USE OF COPSLOCK. But I'm sure you know that.

    My latest Star Wars story does involve the sort of violence that I do not think would appear in the movies, for "realism". We could probably have a long talk about whether censoring sex is different from censoring violence and whether it all comes down to what bothers someone personally or not. I accept that sex bothers me more than violence, and that logically that seems a bit backwards.

    I agree about the "being afraid of stealing ideas from fanfic writers" bit.

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  12. Er. Yes. It is when you can only type about the police force.

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