melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2010-11-03 08:14 pm

Vanyel and FictionAlley

I just had a dream that there exists an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series in which certain department heads on the U.S.S. Enterprise (headed by Captain Kirk) had taken to buying antique hardcovers of classic novels and leaving them lying around the Engineering break rooms in an attempt to wean Scotty off his technical manuals by giving him books that are beautiful hardware in their own right, with the result that Scotty and Cupcake and several other Engineering redshirts have started an enthusiastic book club that is reading the Valdemar novels.

And this animated episode I was watching even included a fairly long segment of what was actually happening in the novel they were discussing, in which Vanyel was drawn to quite closely resemble Spock in a glittery lavender version of Vulcan robes, and spent most of his time crying. In the rain. (As basically all I know about Valdemar is that Vanyel is gay and tragic, there are soulbonded horses, and the covers of my copies are pink and purple and sparkle, I'm kind of impressed with my brain for coming up with that. And traumatized.)

I'm not sure if I want to write that story more or less than I now want the Hot Fuzz story where Danny lends Nick the Valdemar books.


Anyway, I've been kind of vaguely following the FictionAlley vs. Pepsi controversy, and while it would probably be smarter of me not to, I feel compelled to add my $.02 American. (Look, me reading up on the intersection of neoliberal capitalism and self-enforced gift economies totally counts as research for my NaNo, okay? And sadly, that's actually true, and I only just now realized that part of what the economics in my novel is commenting on is fandom.)

Conflict of interest disclaimers first: The first online fandom community I ever participated in was FictionAlley, and I volunteered with them for awhile, way back in the day, though I haven't so much as visited the forums in years and years. Also, somewhat more recently, I wrote protest fic in which Harry Potter characters had kinky underage sex using Pepsi products.

So, I'm not even going to address the arguments that seem to be going around which sum up to "you're killing starving African children, and therefore you're evil!" and "anything involving raising money for fandom is automatically evil, unless I have personally vetted it first!" and "you're associated with the group of HP fans who were involved with founding FictionAlley, and therefore you're evil!" and "you're outing our porn to the masses, and therefore you're evil!" because, quite frankly, I have heard all of those arguments before, they come up time and time again and are pretty much equally fallacious every time, I find them so far beyond tiresome at this point that I have difficulty even caring. Also, lots of other people have been pointing out the problems with those arguments.

However, I do feel like I want to say a few things about a couple of the other arguments, especially because people who are rejecting the above arguments are putting these forward: that they should have turned to fandom for the money first, and that the "educational" thing is a smokescreen and they're not a 'real' charity.

Okay. I got into fandom through FictionAlley. They have been set up as an education-focused nonprofit since the beginning, and this has never changed. Yes, this was partly in order to soothe WB - FA has never been below the corporate radar - but it was partly because they really do serve an educational function. I was far from the only person to get started in fandom through FA, and their active userbase (unless it has changed *drastically* in the past few years, and I doubt it's that drastic) has been heavily, heavily skewed to young people who are getting involved in fandom for the first time, and often who are seriously writing fiction for the first time. FA, even through only the basic archive and forum functions, not even counting its special educational projects, puts a lot of effort into mentoring, providing guidelines and community safeguards, and encouraging and helping its users to actively work to improve their writing abilities, to live and think creatively, to learn how to read actively and critically, to value open exchange of information and ideas, and to help them come to fandom as a positive and accepting community.

Granted, this opinion might be skewed based on how much benefit I personally got out of coming into media fandom through that environment, and you can argue about the way they do it, or whether conceptualizing fic writing as a learning vector is a good thing, or how effectively they present themselves to fandom-at-large, but of course FA, just as a community, is educational, and saying that mission is "too vague" or that they need to justify themselves to you somehow - pisses me off. Any arguments along the line of "just a fanfic archive and therefore by definition of no redeeming value" or "they need to explain in detail every single thing they've ever done that's even vaguely charitable to people who have never been involved with them in any way" get shunted up to the "arguments I am deeply, deeply tired of" pile. Also, "yes, but what they're asking for in the grant is server money, not educational stuff" is a total fallacy too - if a community arts center was asking for money for a new roof, would you say that it wasn't charitable enough? Online communities need capital improvements too.

As for trying to raise money through fandom first - I've seen the suggestion floated that they work with OTW. And maybe people who are more closely involved with behind-the-scenes OTW stuff can help me here, but I'm not entirely sure what people expect that to accomplish. First, I want to point out again that FictionAlley was a registered nonprofit, doing outreach, publicity, and education, long before OTW was a glimmer in fandom's eye. They know how to do this stuff as well as OTW does. Second, I'm not exactly sure how OTW is expected to help - news flash, but they don't have a program to give out thousands of dollars in grants to struggling archives. As far as I can tell, all OTW could to is offer legal and other advice (which would be a bit silly, as several of the people high up in the relevant OTW committees are already involved with FA, and in fact used their FA experience to help OTW set up - am I the only one who remembers the wanking about that at the time?). Or offer to back up the archive through Open Doors, which would essentially mean closing down FA and all the extra mentoring things it does anyway - not a useful solution for people who value FA as more than an archive. And anyway, Open Doors isn't even fully operational yet.

As for running a donation drive of their own, see above about the young skew of the active membership and the focus on mentoring. Much of their membership, due to age, I suspect doesn't have the same kind of petty cash that makes a drive work well, and given the general tone - and, yes, the educational, mentorship slant - the idea of them doing what would be necessary to make an on-site donation drive work, given those conditions, leaves a very bad taste in my mouth, that asking for votes neatly sidesteps.

The question of running a nonprofit on corporate grants vs. member donations only is a really major theme and running argument in the RL nonprofit groups I work with. Basically, it sums down to: member donations are the ideal, but if you want to actually have the time, principles, and resources to accomplish anything other than fundraising, and your membership skews anywhere other than middle-aged or older upper-middle-class people, you pretty much have to go for the grants and sponsorships when you can.

Appealing to fandom at large - well, the reaction to them just asking for votes should be a good enough start at imagining how much worse it would be if that particular segment of HP fandom had been crass enough to ask for actual *money*. (The free laptops references would have never *ended*, just as a start.)

Basically, any problem I have with this comes down to two factors: first, that the message control on the FA end has been way, way suboptimal (but then, this is the FA crew. Mismanaged PR within fandom is practically its trademark).

Second, that the entire Pepsi Refresh thing is grotesque and horrible and not something we should associate with, and especially not something a site which is talking to young people should associate with. An argument I have a great deal of sympathy with, especially as, when I tried to go vote for FA on the site, they expected me to either link it to my facebook account or sign up for an account with them. Sorry, Pepsico, I'm not giving you my personal information. Given what happened the last time Harry Potter fandom coincided with a Pepsi ad campaign, it does seem like an even worse idea for them to be doing this. But, like I mentioned above, if you want to keep an org going, if you wants your money then you takes your grants.
beatrice_otter: Me in red--face not shown (Default)

[personal profile] beatrice_otter 2010-11-04 12:39 am (UTC)(link)
RE: Valdemar. ... yeah, that's about what it's like. You forgot angsting over bullying, and soul-bonded humans. (I mean, the Companions--the horse-like creatures) soul-bond to their riders, but Humans soul-bond to one another, as well.)
elke_tanzer: fannish mudskipper (fannish mudskipper)

Thank you for this.

[personal profile] elke_tanzer 2010-11-04 01:19 am (UTC)(link)
I'd been wondering a lot why FA had not approached OTW to shelter a backup copy of the archive at AO3 via Open Doors, because the largest concern I'd seen voiced (as to why they needed new server(s)) was that the story archive was in danger of vanishing. I had not realized the extent of the forums etc, nor seen voicing of concerns about those going away.
elke_tanzer: fannish mudskipper (fannish mudskipper)

Re: Thank you for this.

[personal profile] elke_tanzer 2010-11-04 01:51 am (UTC)(link)
To my way of thinking, going to the OTW simply to inquire about the possibility of storing a backup copy of an archive in danger of vanishing, makes perfect sense, especially if an archive is in a "dire" situation. Open Doors may not be fully operational, but it's obviously partially underway, and there's no harm in making a simple inquiry.

But I freely admit that the few posts I read about the FA situation were less than clear about what the situation really was/is, and my understanding of "dire" is likely not the same as others' definitions of "dire".

And I hadn't understood (and still don't, I guess) that FA is still a thriving community. It sure sounded to me like it's not sustainable in its current incarnation.

But I also know that I've only stumbled across the periphery of a much larger situation, and I certainly don't have enough of an understanding of the challenges the FA maintainers are facing, nor the strategies they're trying, have tried, or will try, to keep their site active and sustainable.

I wish them all the best, but wow, the posts I've seen about the situation from the FA side of things sure were hard to understand, for me personally.
elke_tanzer: Owl - HP fandom scares me (HP fandom scares me)

Re: Thank you for this.

[personal profile] elke_tanzer 2010-11-04 02:06 am (UTC)(link)
*points to my icon with gentle laughter*

Thanks again for all of this. Having your additional perspective is really nice!
futuransky: socialist-realist style mural of Glasgow labor movement (Default)

[personal profile] futuransky 2010-11-04 02:58 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks for this. I didn't know about the history, nonprofit structure, or educational skew of FA, and it actually makes their decision to turn to the Pepsi thing make a WHOLE lot more sense.

I still think that funds could have been raised by tapping into the OTW's contacts and structures, which do skew very much toward people who are able to and do donate and who value fandom as a general principle (I was also thinking about Open Doors as a safety net, and that the OTW tends to be very flexible about seeing what they can do for people who are looking for help); it would certainly have made more wank, but would probably also have made some money.

I still don't agree with their decision, but I feel like I understand it a lot better from this post.
copracat: Rodney and Radek from SGA, with serious business faces (zelenka - nor ever chaste)

[personal profile] copracat 2010-11-04 03:31 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks for this post. I know a fair bit about fundraising (note: Pepsico not a shining example of best practice corporate philanthropy!) but next to nothing about FictionAlley. I appreciate your perspective. As a fundraiser, the judgemental statements about deserving vs undeserving grant recipients are getting on my nerves.
Edited (can't spell) 2010-11-04 03:32 (UTC)
undomielregina: close up of a wall in Delphi (Delphic Wall)

[personal profile] undomielregina 2010-11-04 06:46 am (UTC)(link)
Personally, I'm not sure I'm really comfortable with the Pepsi Refresh setup as a whole, personally. The public voting seems so "dance for our amusement, puppets!"
copracat: ron has been through the crucible of friendship (ron crucible)

[personal profile] copracat 2010-11-04 06:59 am (UTC)(link)
course. It's a massive marketing campaign to get Pepsi's name all over Facebook and Twitter etc taking advantage of people's desire to do good in the world.
undomielregina: Rusyuna from the anime Grenadier text: "Grenadier" (Default)

[personal profile] undomielregina 2010-11-04 07:11 am (UTC)(link)
*nod* Of course. My biggest problem is that the vote tallies are publicly visible. If there was just an announcement of the winners at the end, I'd be bothered a lot less by the sense of the whole thing being a spectacle for external consumption, even though practically speaking the system would be almost identical.

(Also, I just noticed that I managed to proofread my comment terribly and have "personally" bookending the first sentence >.<)
cesy: "Cesy" - An old-fashioned quill and ink (Default)

[personal profile] cesy 2010-11-05 10:14 am (UTC)(link)
The vote tallies are also inaccurate - ask Modest Needs about the "technical glitches" that somehow never got fixed.
undomielregina: Rusyuna from the anime Grenadier text: "Grenadier" (Default)

[personal profile] undomielregina 2010-11-04 06:44 am (UTC)(link)
spent most of his time crying. In the rain.

This is pretty much the books in a nutshell.

Thanks for the explanation of the FA culture. I've been feeling squidgy about the direction of the rhetoric was taking, although not about the actual fact of the outrage. Fandom communities like FAP are, at least to some extent, comparable to community centers, and it's not their fault that they're not serving an easily identifiable or quantifiable community. I've been increasingly uncomfortable about the classism I'm seeing in some of the anti-FAP discussion, especially surrounding the idea that anyone who can participate in fandom must have plenty of leisure time and disposable income. There's so much evidence to the contrary that I can't believe people are advancing that argument in all seriousness.

(I've also seen the argument that FA's directors probably have the money to pay for the servers themselves, which makes me really uncomfortable. I don't think "if you really loved it and it was in serious trouble, you'd just foot the bill for it by yourselves" is really appropriate.)

FA's communication with outsiders needs serious work, though. Their statements have been seriously problematic, defensive, hyperbolic, and unprofessional, as has their handling of the initial grant proposal.
trinity_clare: cry more, draco malfoy (drama queen)

[personal profile] trinity_clare 2010-11-04 03:05 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm glad you're making this post, since what you remember of FAP lines up nicely with my own memories (and if my experience there is still representative, I'd suspect a good portion of their forum users are still in middle school, so really not much with the petty cash).

*uses this icon because even on DW, 10 years after joining fandom, the icon credit is still "I think I got this from FictionAlley"*
kaz: "Kaz" written in cursive with a white quill that is dissolving into (badly drawn in Photoshop) butterflies. (Default)

[personal profile] kaz 2010-11-04 04:40 pm (UTC)(link)
Although I mainly "grew up" in Silmarillion fandom, my early fandom experience was sort of split between that and FictionAlley and I too have fond memories of FAP and its newbie-focussed friendly culture. In fact, thinking back I got my LJ invite code from a thread on the forums (this being back when LJ still used invites) and since I only got to DW via LJ in a way I wouldn't be here at all without FAP. So, I agree and thank you for posting this.
flourish: white lady, green eyes, brown hair (Default)

[personal profile] flourish 2010-11-04 04:56 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for saying this. This is the post I wanted to make but felt unable to (because coming from someone who's associated with FA it would read as defensiveness, and rightly so.)
flourish: white lady, green eyes, brown hair (Default)

[personal profile] flourish 2010-11-04 10:55 pm (UTC)(link)
For sure. I got up the courage to post my own comments too, FYI, on my DW, so if people would like to see another perspective (and a different one) there it is.
phoebe_zeitgeist: (Default)

via metafandom

[personal profile] phoebe_zeitgeist 2010-11-04 08:03 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you for this. I know nothing at all about FA, and damned little about HP fandom; but I do know a bit about fundraising for small organizations that can't afford entire professional fundraising departments, and from that perspective I've been uncomfortable with the way the argument has gone so far. I appreciate both the background and the clarity of analysis more than I can tell you.
flourish: white lady, green eyes, brown hair (Default)

Re: via metafandom

[personal profile] flourish 2010-11-04 10:56 pm (UTC)(link)
Ironically, Heidi was one of the people behind the Haiti fundraising drive. Which, I mean, you can kind hate on Heidi for lots of reasons, but she does know about fundraising, which made me LOL a little at people going "but if only FA knew more about fundraising!"