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.

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