A self-titled “cognitive neuroscientist and game show contestant”, Dr. Ogas has managed to cause a considerable wankstorm throughout LiveJournal media fandom. The kerfluffle primarily surrounds a survey he posted and promoted on LiveJournal, claiming to be studying “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Fan Fiction”. A full timeline of the details can be found in FanHistory’s article on Ogi, but for here, let me summarize where he went so wrong in fannish eyes. These mistakes should be noted by other researchers outside of fandom who may wish to “study” fen communities, if they want to have any chance of obtaining willing participants and useful information in their research.
1. Don’t lie about your intents. In his publicly promoted FAQ about the survey, Dr. Ogas (and his associate, Dr. Sai Gaddam) did not note anywhere that the research was not being conducted for a “hard” scientific study, but instead for a sensationalistic-titled book already up for publication in 2010: “Rule 34: What Netporn Teaches Us About The Brain.”
2. Don’t talk down to your potential study participants. In several comment threads in the discussion following the survey, Dr. Ogas’ attitude was seen as highly condescending towards members of the fannish community. The apparent lack of sincerity in his responses to being challenged did little except further anger and upset many who were perhaps originally willing to give him a chance.
3. Have at least some basic knowledge about the community you wish to study. Making basic errors in understanding fandom norms, genres of fiction, and styles of interaction, as occurred repeatedly in this instance, do little to give a community any faith a researcher will represent them fairly. And with a community which is already very sensitive about misconceptions and misrepresentations of it in the mainstream media, this is a crucial factor. Dr. Ogas should have at least vetted his potential survey questions before a large group of fandom individuals before unleashing it in a public fashion.
And as a side note/emphasis to this:
4. Don’t just take the word of a few individuals when attempting to study a community. Apparently Ogas and Gaddam made somecontact with fandom individuals a month before this survey was launched, but it was a very limited sampling. They did not appear to take any real time to read much of the already-published literature on fandom and fandom culture, nor explore the vast amounts of meta and historical information available on fandom on the internet – in places such as FanHistory, Fanlore, or elsewhere.
Of course, in this situation it may not have mattered very much as the authors seem already preset in the hypothesis they want to prove instead of being interested in genuinely researching fandom. Another error in their judgment.
5. Be aware of fandom’s sensitivity to certain topics and the appearance of privilege. 2009 has been the year that fandom has exploded with discussions of race, gender, sexuality, and ability privilege. A researcher should take the time to read up on events such as Race Fail 2009 and also the 2009 Warnings debate. Doing so will help them understand the importance of dealing with potentially triggering content carefully, as well as how not to appear cluelessly privileged.
6. Don’t underestimate fandom’s ire if you piss it off. It took less than 48 hours from the posting of Dr. Ogas’ survey for the situation to explode into a full on metamob attack. Participants have been quick to screencap and record material before it could be deleted or changed by Dr. Ogas, as well as spreading the word to make sure others stay away from his “research project”. Some are discussing – or already have gone forward with – contacting Boston University, where Dr. Ogas is on staff, regarding the apparent problems in his research and potential violations of ethics.
And, of course, some have also responded with true fannish humor and proving Rule 34 correct after all: by writing Ogas/Gaddam RPS fic.
(OK, technically it was a midnight showing on May 19, the official release date, but you get the idea.)
I hadn’t been planning on going. At least not to a midnight show. While I was a Star Wars fan like any child of the 80s, I’m very allergic to hype, and the massive frenzy around the release of the new film had pretty much left me feeling “meh”. I’d see it when I could, but I wasn’t going to stand in line for hours or days to do so.
But it was my birthday, and I was kind of…depressed. 27 and with nothing planned, no one to spend the day with, grad school was sucking the life out of me and I seem to recall even the weather was shitty. I was running some errands and walked by the old, decrepit-but-beloved Sam Eric theater on Chestnut Street around 3-4pm that afternoon. The marquee proclaimed a midnight showing of the film that night.
“Gotta be sold out, but what the hell,” I thought, and being curious I checked if they had any tickets available. Surprisingly, they did – and no line waiting was necessary.
I went back home, nursed my morose mood for a few more hours, then went to check out the movie.
Thus began one crazy, crazy chapter in my life.
Now, I’d been involved in “fandom” for a long time by this point (music, tv, what-have-you), but not any kind of fandom in the mega-spotlight. Obscure and weird loves have always been my game, things like The A-Team. Even when I got into big fandoms like Xena, it was on the stange side of the spectrum (Joxer fandom, to be precise. Joxer slash fandom to be even more so. Oh the shame…) Small fandoms. Quiet fandoms. Manageable fandoms.
Then I saw that scene. The one near the end. Qui-Gon’s death scene. Up until that point I’d been happily reveling in just the pretty special effects and grimacing through the typical Star Wars stiff acting and cringe-worthy dialog.
But then Qui-Gon touched Obi-Wan’s face and died and ugh there was my tragic, epic love story for the ages. As Keelywolfe put it so eloquently,
“A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away, George Lucas created Star Wars. And he looked at it and saw that it was good. And all was right in the world. But then, we saw that Obi-Wan doth look upon Qui-Gon with lust, and that Mr. Lucas was not likely to include that in the next movie, so we said screw it and wrote it ourselves, even though we do not make any money off of this. And all was right with the world.”
I immediately rushed home and posted on, of all places joxerotica, virtually screaming “OMGWTFDIDYOUGUYSSEETHATISTHERESLASHYETOMGOMG!!!!” And a few others there went “OMGOMGOMG!!!!” too, and the very next day, I did a very silly thing.
I created Master and Apprentice over on dear old yahoogroups. And I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Foolish me, I thought it would be a lot like running Joxerotica, or my A-Team groups–some work but nothing too daunting. People started joining up quickly but I figured it was just an initial frenzy after the movie’s release. I set up a little archive on my simplenet web account, manually adding stories as they were posted. It was maybe a couple a day at first. Fun, short stuff–angst pieces and missing scenes, short AU’s to “fix” Qui-Gon’s death, that sort of thing. I had a co-mod from Joxerotica helping me out at first as we set up the archive/list’s basic rules. But then it started growing. And growing. And growing, until it became within a month or two The Fandom That Ate Cincinatti. Slashfen were flocking in from everywhere: Sentinel fandom, Highlander fandom, X-Files fandom. People were even bitching how Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan was “stealing” all the good writers from other fandoms!
It should be noted, too, that there was no small amount of concern about “The Wrath of Lucas” when I started the list and archive. While it may seem laughable today, at the time many fen still remembered his previous actions and stance against those who wrote and published adult–nevermind slash–fiction in the Star Wars universe. And also, there were other fen who would react strongly against those who would do so against George’s wishes, as I would learn firsthand from some of the people I would meet in this fandom such as Bev Lorenstein, who would become one of my dearest friends, and who told me what she went through in publishing Organia in 1982. That said, in my years of involvement in Star Wars fandom, I never received a cease and desist letter from Lucasfilms or had any other contact from them. So perhaps the worries were all for naught…
In any event, by the end of the summer of ’99 I was growing concerned that my little archive just wasn’t going to cut it as a few stories a day were turning into dozens. It was reaching a critical point and I was getting worried about the stability of my archive situation, and my friend Erik came up with a solution.
He could put me up on his own webserver. Register a domain for me–sockiipress.org–and then set up a database program which, although stories would still need to be manually submitted, would make creating story index pages automated, along with allowing for search functions and other cool stuff. sockiipress.org was registered on September 30, 1999 and the archive moved there, which would be its home for the next three years or so, before the archive moved to its own URL, masterapprentice.org, some time after I had left the fandom for good.
But before I get to that part of the story…
Being involved in this fandom from its point of creation through the height of the frenzy was, as I said earlier, a crazy experience. I’d never been involved in such an active fandom before. Never found myself in the Big Name Fan spotlight (though I was no real writer of note in the fandom, just archivist, occasional artist, and “ringleader”, in effect). Was it exciting? Sure! I loved waking up every morning to a emailbox full of new stories. And there was some wonderful fiction being written by some amazing authors. Was the attention thrilling as well? Admittedly, yeah, it was. I went from being the girl into very weird things at conventions like MediaWest and Eclecticon, largely lurking on the sidelines and being ignored, to getting a round of applause at ConneXions in 2000 for the work I’d done on the mailing list and archive. It was an ego boost for certain–but then it also gave me a taste of big fandoms’ ugly side as well, and how fandom can turn on you on the drop of a dime.
First there were scuffles on allowable content. The first one came up over the topic of Chan fic. I lost my co-moderator to the mailing list over this debate and the compromise position on the subject I favored. Real person fic also was broached and lead to some heated arguments until it was banned from archiving. The fandom went through typical growing pains as different subjects and content was being explored, but then our archive was having growing pains, too. Erik’s server was not all that stable, leading to sporadic downtime and a lot of headaches on his end. He put up with a lot helping me out with the site, for someone who wasn’t even in the fandom. At one point, in 2000, he thought it would be a nice idea to burn CD copies of the archive to make available to users through the mailing list. It was welcomed as a good “backup” to the unstable site, and he charged a nominal fee to cover his materials and time — I think it was $7 or so. No one raised a single complaint the first time around with this, and I think he mailed off something like 100-200 copies of the disk.
In 2001, the server difficulties were getting worse. Erik was getting frustrated, and I, myself, was getting a little worn out from listmom and archiving duties. While at this point we had a group of 5-6 assistant archivists, it was still demanding a lot of my time, and my interest in the Qui/Obi was…drifting. By that point I had been distracted by some other Bright Shiny Fandoms — Brimstone in particular. Erik decided to do a second run of the archive disks, at $10, because he was about ready to give up trying to work out a solution for our hosting woes.
That’s when things got ugly. One morning I woke up to several outraged emails from authors who had long been absent from the fandom, demanding that their stories be removed from the archive, not included on the CD, “or else”. Later that day I found out Erik and I were being subjected to ugly accusations of profiting off people’s work, that outrageous things were being said about us all over fandom chat channels (one reason I still avoid “chat” to this day). We defended ourselves and actions while of course agreeing to remove any stories that people did not want included, but were then told, point blank, to “Fuck off” from the community and archive we’d spent all those hours, days, months, years into maintaining.
And we were both only too glad to oblige at that point.
Thankfully, two Loris were ready to help us out. “Lori” took over maintaining the archive and list. “Lorrie” offered us hosting on her own server (for both the archive and sockiipress overall). Eventually I moved to my own hosting service entirely, cutting off completely from my connections to Q/O fandom.
Except, happily enough, ties to some of the wonderful friends I made there, despite all the angst and wank and aggravation. Many of them I am still in touch with today in other fandom communities, fabulous people I will forever thank my involvement in Star Wars fandom for bringing into my life. I learned a lot from my time in the fandom, good and bad, and I definitely would not take those years back for anything. That said, I’m also quite content to be back to lurking around in small and obscure fandoms these days. The pickings might be slim, but the pleasure is rarely overwhelmed by the aggravation.
So happy anniversary, master-apprentice! Our love may have been brief and heated, but when it was good, it was oh, so good…
It was a good try, and I thank everyone who helped out with my quest to get to Bonnaroo, but it looks like it wasn’t meant to be.
Radio 104.5‘s voting system was pathetically simple to take advantage of as “email verification” checks are just as easy to abuse as just about any other on-line voting method, and my main competition, “Megan L.”, did a damned intense job of abusing it at the end of the day on May 10.
My hat’s off to her, though if I may snark for a moment, I hope she puts that media pass to better use than might be expected given the photography “skills” evident in her submitted competition photo.
Maybe next time.
In unrelated news, next week there’s a very important anniversary coming up for me to celebrate and contemplate over, and that’s the 10-year anniversary of my launching the Master and Apprentice mailing list and archive for Obi-Wan/Qui-Gonslash. I plan to write up an entry over the weekend looking back on the origins of the archive, the fiction, the “drama”, and everything else as I saw it happen before I left the fandom.
I hardly ever go to the movies these days – partly the cost, partly the (in)convenience (thanks, Philly, for losing basically all your mainstream theaters in Center City!), partly the lack of interest and largely the lack of time.
But I do really want to see the new Star Trek movie. I’m not the scifi geek I once was, especially during the heyday of my graduate school years where I escaped the drudgery of research work by losing myself in Babylon 5, Trek, Star Wars and Xena fandoms.
But seeing all the excitement about the movie all over the place and from a lot of my old fandom friends makes me a little nostalgic and wanting to check it out. I don’t know if it’ll draw be back into the media fandom fold at all, but I am curious.
I’ve also been spending too much time watching funny Trek-related videos on YouTube. This one, poking gentle fun at Trek and Kirk/Spock slash, especially left me howling with laughter.