Thursday, June 22, 2006

Don't Plan Anything For the Next Couple of Hours--I've Got Some Reading For You

Those of you with LJ accounts may have noticed the increasing references, this past week, to Charlotte Lennox's (an assumed name) The Ms. Scribe Story: An Unauthorized Fandom Biography. If you've passed on reading this riveting, meticulously researched and extremely well-written account of lies, cruelty and manipulation within Harry Potter fandom because you're not a fan of the series or involved with that particular community, I urge you to give it another look. Lennox's document isn't simply an account of one fandom's descent into madness. It is a vital study of group behavior, and of how the online medium accelerates and exacerbates (but by no means causes) the worst impulses of those groups. If you've ever been a member of an online community, no matter how diffuse and ill-defined, if you've ever given any thought to the ways in which the internet redefines the communal experience, you owe it to yourself to read this document.

This is too obscure a topic for me to track down the exact post, but John Scalzi once put forward the theory that an online community's tendency to explode into acrimony and flame wars stands in direct correlation to the narrowness of that community's topic or area of interest. (It's a theory that, I believe, holds true for physical communities as well.) A narrower field of interest makes it all the more likely that a community will get caught up in minutiae, divide along objectively meaningless lines, and inevitably devolve into a self-perpetuating argument for argument's sake, with the original topic of discussion all but forgotten.

It's the dark reflection, if you will, of the charming group dynamic described in the most recent Doctor Who episode, "Love & Monsters", in which several amiable misfits parlay their shared obsession with the Doctor into an all-purpose social club.

6 comments:

ca said...

I found this yesterday (through your LJ feed, actually... I recently got a lj, under the name charlie_ego, and am getting used to it; hope you don't mind if I friend?) -- It's... engrossing. Real life is kind of sickeningly fascinating, and I'm glad she chronicled that. Also a little frightening, that someone thought it was worth doing all that to get to the Inner Circle in a *subset of a Harry Potter fanfic community*.

Anonymous said...

What an astonishing story. If this woman had time to put so much energy into characters, why not actually WRITE that novel she kept mentioning?

I do hope her child was made up. (I have never seen any 17 month old who had the skills or the interest in holding another child and kissing him or her repeatedly.)

Last reaction, I found amusing that the detective work was done by someone using the nom de plume "Charlotte Lennox" who wrote THE FEMALE QUIXOTE.

Helen Louise said...

If you've passed on reading this riveting, meticulously researched and extremely well-written account of lies, cruelty and manipulation within Harry Potter fandom because you're not a fan of the series or involved with that particular community, I urge you to give it another look. Lennox's document isn't simply an account of one fandom's descent into madness. It is a vital study of group behavior, and of how the online medium accelerates and exacerbates (but by no means causes) the worst impulses of those groups.

Ouch. Sounds a bit painful really. Generally the fandom I've known - although I've lost touch with most of them due to not having written fanfic in a looong time - have been great, and lies, cruelty and manipulation have been suspiciously absent. I guess the worst has probably been some of the crazy shippers - even J.K. Rowling finds the Harry/Hermione vs. Ron/Hermione feud scary. But then I learned in my teenage years when I got obsessed with... ahem... Babylon 5... that obsession with a fictional world can get a bit crazy and pseudo-religious (being both a Christian and a B5 fan, I can testify that some of the best evangelists I've known were trying to make their friends become B5 fans. Ouch). So generally, when someone sends me an e-mail saying, "Join the protest marches, boycotts, sit-ins and letters-to-JKR campaigns so that we can get Sirius Black back" I just laugh it off as those crazy teenagers again, and tell them that if they devoted all that energy to saving starving children, world hunger would be solved. And yes, someone actually sent me an e-mail saying that, just after Order of the Phoenix came out.

I can't help but think that someone who's taken the time to write about a fandom community has to be just as obsessed as the poor geeks whose lives she describes.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

ca:

I recently got a lj, under the name charlie_ego, and am getting used to it; hope you don't mind if I friend?

Not at all, but you'd be better off friending AtWQ's LJ feed. I don't post anything on my LJ page - I just created the identity so I'd be able to comment on other people's livejournals.

Helen Louise, I suggest you take a closer look at Charlotte Lennox's document. This isn't an account of shipping wars or geekish obsession. It's a story about human nature and herd mentality, and it could just as easily have happened in a knitting circle or a church group as in an online fandom.

Liz said...

I stopped up till 2am reading the whole story yesterday. I read fandom_wank, and I remember reading the whole kerfluffle over fandom scruples, and the watchful entity, and the rapid explosions of Laptopgate and Charitywank, and I wouldn't have thought anyone could be so determined to be important in Harry Potter fandom as to do all that. It's fascinating in a horrible trainwrecky way.

If you wish to read more about the total batshit insanity of fans, then the story of Bit of Earth is worth a look.

ca said...

Abigail: Ah, see, this is what I meant; told you I was still getting used to it! Thanks.

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