Some Thoughts on Literary Snobbery
But as a result of getting invited to comment on anti-flaming forums (and I'm chatty--or mouthy, if we're being nasty--so I always do), though, I've gotten to read a good bit of the "other side's" defense, i.e. those who are proud of the fact that they bully, harass, and intimidate beginning writers (read: young writers) on sites like fanfiction.net. This has been interesting because there are people on this side who feel as passionately as I do that they are doing the right thing in being, well, flamers. They embrace this designation that, to me, has always been an insult.
And I've noticed an interesting trend in their defense of their behavior. And it's not an unfamiliar argument, I just find it rather odd to see it in a fan fiction community.
A good number of these people see themselves as upholding "quality fiction" or maintaining a certain standard on sites that tend to lack in moderation. They see themselves as doing a service for badfic writers who don't realize that they're writing badfic and a service for the rest of us by cleansing sites of those who knowingly write and post badfic. I find this attitude egotistical and disturbing, not to mention ironic, given the sandbox in which they are playing.
For the record, I am not talking about sites that attempt to maintain standards of quality via restrictions on what can be posted (OSA, for example) or through peer review (HASA, for example). As a webmaster, I reserve the right to have whatever standards on my site that I feel are necessary and appropriate; if people don't like it, they are welcome to take their page clicks elsewhere or start their own sites. I am talking about individuals who go onto sites that they do not own, run, or moderate in any way and attempt to impose their own standards of quality using nasty, aggressive tactics to drive away the writers and stories that they feel are subpar.
The egotism of this boggles me ... yet I know I should not be surprised. I'm no stranger to literary snobbery, only I find it a bit odd when I find it rearing its ugly head in fanfic. Why? Because fanfic is still the red-headed bastard of the fiction world. Pretty much everyone outside of our own community hates us. As much as we like to claim that we're taking back our folkloric roots by changing and adding to established stories, much like the oral tradition of days of yore, there are some--perhaps many, or a majority--in the "real" writing world who don't see us that way. Are we purveyors of literature? Or harmlessly annoying like legions of teenage fans crawling onto a rock star's limo? Are we unethical in what we do? Disrespectful? Criminal?
I've found the "real" writing world to be full of snobbery. Mainstream and literary writers look down on those who pen "genre," dismissing it as plot-based, formulaic tripe. Both the literary/mainstream and genre writers look down on fanfic writers, who (many believe) lack the creativity to come up with their own stuff. It seems that no matter the writing niche, people are quick to find another type of writer who is inferior to them, who shouldn't be writing. For example, I was not permitted to write "genre" fiction as part of my very proper literary education because even the best fantasy, horror, sci-fi, romance, or whatever was inherently inferior to the worst literary by virtue of falling under the broad (and vaguely defined) definition of "genre." And within genres, there are sub-genres that are generally reviled more than others. I've seen fantasy authors scathe sword-and-sorcery stories, for example, as inferior to the "purer" fantasy that they write. Within the sword-and-sorcery niche, I imagine (but don't know for sure) a loathing for all stories that appear to be based too heavily on the D&D formula. I suppose the next lowest form of fiction (by these standards) is fan fiction about D&D or other formulaic sword-and-sorcery stories. And so it goes. Everyone defines their affiliation as a writer, in part, by who and what they hate.
So, given that many of our fellow writers feel that we are a waste of talent and shouldn't be writing at all, I find it odd when fanfic writers turn into snobs. I know, I shouldn't be surprised. But I have this gallant vision of the oppressed fanfic masses creating something of a literary utopia where all live and let live in terms of creativity, inspired by their own mistreatment at the hands of the "real writers" to recognize the inherent good of a creative act.
I know. I'm a pie-eyed optimist. 8^)
Instead, I see writers trying to "cleanse" sites of badfic writers, trying to force revisions upon authors who don't want to make changes, and exacting retribution on authors who continue to defy their narrow ideas of "canon" or "quality."
Is there some inherent urge, upon declaring oneself a "writer," to immediately define which writers are undeserving of the same honor? Because I see it again and again and again ... and among communities of writers--like fan fiction writers--who should know by virtue of their own ostracism from the mainstream world of fiction how hurtful and silly this sort of behavior is.
I suspect that this is a convenient way to become a "good writer" without ever having to actually become a good writer. After all, if one prefaces her entry into the world of fiction-writing by immediately declaring other authors, sub-genres, and interpretations as being unworthy of consideration, that narrows the field of competition quite a bit. (Because one of those Mary Sue authors might turn into a really good writer after ten years practice. How embarrassing! Or a science fiction story might be more profound and moving than a literary story. Also, embarrassing.) And in intimidating new writers and young authors, such writers create an immediate aura of respect for themselves. "Wow! Look at all the rules she said I broke in my story! She must really know what she's talking about!" (In fact, no, anyone who cites "rules" or "absolutes" in fiction knows diddly-squat about what she's talking about. There are conventions in writing but no rules.) This is much easier than earning respect by giving thoughtful, kind advice to those who want it and respecting those who don't and parting ways. Because those who want concrit are usually the ones less apt to be impressed by the rote recitation of comma rules learned in the fifth grade.
Hey, there are genres and styles and whatnot in both original and fan fiction that I don't personally enjoy as a reader. But you know what? Someone does. Just because I don't like bodice-rippers or Westerns or Mary Sues ... someone, somewhere in this world really does. And they have every right to enjoy what they like to read, just as I do.
And somewhere is a teenager rolling her eyes at what boring windbags we old-lady "serious types" are about our fan fiction, which is, after all, meant to be all about fun, frivolity, and marrying Legolas astride a unicorn. Who am I to argue with that?