Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Death of the Divide

This afternoon, the Organization for Transformative Works posted this blog post declaring that the line between the fan and the mainstream had been "obliterated". Their list of fan creators who have gone mainstream include E.L. James, Darren Criss, and that girl who wrote the One Direction book. Fan art contests are becoming a promotional tactic in the video game world, and then there's Burnie Burns, whose fan video recently became the longest-running scripted sci-fi show in America.

Fans can find work as journalists, professors, and sometimes even participants in the canon they're passionate about. Many of them have created niches for themselves, like Darren Criss and the mass of other people who sing about Harry Potter on YouTube.

I came at this with my usual skepticism. Something, I felt, must be wrong with it. It must cheapen the fan experience, which is based on free fun. It must be unfair to someone if their fandom has contests and another fandom does not. Mainstreamization is an icky word, right?

Not really. Ever since Harry Potter brought fantasy novels into a renaissance in the two thousands, activities that were once seen as bizarrely fannish have become popular phenomena. And despite the fact that 50 Shades of Gray is the best example here, that's really, really a good thing. It means more opportunities for people of all ages, more creative freedom, an inward look at our own media. It means a meta-aware generation so tangled up in information that we can learn to process new knowledge in creative ways derived from the same neutral pathways we use when we're wondering about a character's backstory.

So what does it mean for money? Does it mean that fan authors are more likely to be 'discovered' on the internet? Does it mean that someone will have to finally finesse copyright law enough to allow fans more freedom? Will it become more common for fans to be paid to specialize in something someone else created?

I'm not sure. We'll have to wait and see what the next few years bring, and whose name is on the next big phenomena. Maybe mainstream can die and be reborn as something a little more fannish.

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