Monday, June 18, 2007

On "fan-fiction", "Mary Sue", and "continuity porn"

For most of the last twenty years, the term “fan-fiction” meant a story using the trademarked characters of others - necessarily published online, anonymously, or with massive disclaimers to preclude lawsuits - which was not published with the authorization of the entity whose trademarked characters appeared within.

Stories published in novel format involving Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty (there are lots of these) are NOT fan-fiction, as they are authorized by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Stories published online involving (this is real) Gambit and Rogue using a dampener collar to negate her powers so that they could have sex ARE fan-fiction. (But seriously, why DIDN’T they ever?)

It has irked me ever since the term fan-fiction started appearing in comics criticism. If the story is published by the entity which owns the characters, then it, by established definition, is NOT fan-fiction.

Mary Sue-ing is something else entirely though, as when Devin Grayson created a character in Nightwing who was quite obviously supposed to represent herself. Still, this was signed off on by DC editorial, so it can NOT be termed fan-fiction.

It seems that nowadays, whenever a writer decides to take a direction with the characters or books they’re writing that a reviewer does not agree with (however justifiably), said reviewers often attempt to disqualify the work by terming it fan-fiction, or worse, continuity-porn - another term which must be addressed. Until recently, continuity was a major factor in super hero comics. It was important to readers to make everything being done nowadays by characters fit with their established histories. Recently, when writers attempt to do so, they are criticized.

In my opinion, this sort of name calling is nothing but sloppy reviewing. It allows the reviewer to denigrate the work being critiqued without having to explain to their readers what their actual objections to the work are. It’s akin to saying “this rubs me the wrong way”, which, in and of itself, is acceptable - because it applies a personal feeling to the critique. However, when critics use terms like those being discussed, it is basically taking a personal feeling and attempting to justify it via a pseudo-logical argument. It’s a cheat. "I don't like this. I don't know why, I just don't." And this shouldn’t be done. Unfortunately, I see no signs of it stopping, nor do I envision it stopping. The most that can be done is for reviewers like ourselves to lead the way by refusing to use these terms, in favor of using actual logical arguments against works which we don’t like.

No comments: