So, I mention occasionally in this blog (and a lot more, in meatspace) that I spend a lot of time in Buffy fandom. Sometimes, this is greeted with “how totally cool, please link me up to your hot Spike/Buffy fanfic,” but more often, with bemused tolerance, and occasionally, rolled eyes. I actually suspect that more eyerolling goes on behind my back, but, you know, that’s ok. The point of this post is not the true love of Spike and Buffy (or Kirk and Spock, or Harry and Draco…). Rather, it’s transformative works. Although fanfiction is more what I do (since 1999, yo), this post largely focuses on vidding because it has a very interesting history and I think it’s more accessible to the outlander, if you will.
What is a transformative work? Well, I will give you the definition that the Organization for Transformative Works has in its FAQ, which I think is an excellent one:
A transformative work takes something extant and turns it into something with a new purpose, sensibility, or mode of expression.
Transformative works include but are not limited to fanfiction, real person fiction, fan vids, and fan art. The OTW is interested in all kinds of transformative works, but our priority will be to support and defend the types of works hosted in our archive, and the fans who create them. […]
The term transformative was specifically chosen to highlight in the nonprofit organization’s name one of the key legal defenses for fanworks of all kinds (including real person fiction): that they are transformative of original source materials.
A transformative use is one that, in the words of the U.S. Supreme Court, “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the source with new expression, meaning, or message.” A story from Voldemort’s perspective is transformative, so is a story about a pop star that illustrates something about current attitudes toward celebrity or sexuality.
So, my gentle readers, you may be going, “why do I care about this” and/or “is this remotely related to feminism” and/or “is this remotely related to life,” but trust me, I am going somewhere with this.
Did you know that the 90% of fic writers publishing in Star Trek zines in 1973 were female? Star Trek is considered the foundation of contemporary fandom, and also the origin of vidding culture. In the early 1980s, female vidding collectives sprung up to meet the needs of early vid makers. Collaborative effort was necessary due to the time-intensive and cost-prohibitive nature of vidding in the early days of the VCR.
Check out “Women, Star Trek, and the early development of fannish vidding” by Francesca Coppa.
It’s not just Star Trek. Fan culture at large is not disproportionately female. But the culture surrounding fanworks, and the creators of fan works, has historically been female-driven and women-populated. (I am aware that this is not always the case these days – anime vidding fandoms? Might be dude heavy? But my point stands.) There’s even a TV Tropes page, because we all know that TV Tropes is the true arbiter of truths on the internet: Most Fanfic Writers Are Girls.
Why do women create fan works? Back to all that “transformative works” stuff. Women are challenging, editing, and changing popular culture because we’re not satisfied with it. Fanfiction and vidding are both fertile grounds for textual de- and re-construction, and for expressions of female desire. They’re also both powerful mediums for feminist critique. As someone who literally grew up in fandom (I started reading and writing Daria fanfiction when I was 12 – yes, I’m a little embarrassed), the strong, nurturing, and largely female community I found in fandom has been a huge part of my life. I met my best friend through fandom in 2001 – through her, I discovered and decided to attend [that place where I went to undergrad]. Every time I go to a new city, there’s someone I know and want to meet up with there. Nimbus 2003 was the summer before my junior year of high school. (And here I am Nimbus. Yeah… no explanations for that one.)
So, transformative works? Important.
If you are curious about vidding as feminist critique, here are a few vids you might check out:
– She Walks by jmtorres (Dollhouse). Meta on rape culture; I just linked to it in my previous post.
– Bachelorette by obsessive24 (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Patriarchy in the Buffyverse. This video also showcases the epic racefail that is Joss Whedon, so forewarned is forearmed.
– Origin Stories by giandujakiss (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). “It’s Nikki Wood’s fucking coat.” Criticism of the series’ handling of Spike and related epic racefail.
…the title links the vid to Donna Haraway’s feminist, antiracist critique of Western civilization’s origin stories in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, much of which is based on a close reading of Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy; because superheroes have origin stories,and Slayers are superheroes, and so is Robin Wood; because the plural in the title makes you think, “Whose origin? Whose story?”; because there isn’t just one story, ever. Because I wanted to say, “Pay attention to whose stories don’t get told.”
ETA: Piece of Me by obsessive24 (Britney Spears) is a great example of a vid about celebrity culture working with non-narrative footage. obsessive24 is one of my favorite vidders, and her work is generally excellent – this is no exception. 🙂