Hello, Wanderers. Here I am with another Wildcard about being a good fan. We’ve touched on some of these points before in our Being Fandom article on manners, and we’re touching on others in this issue’s FW Tips, but I want to explore the ideas of permission and privacy – not just with regards to the people at the centre of our fandoms, but also our fellow fans themselves.
A lot of us put fanworks out onto the internet or expose it to the eyes of everyone in our fandom through other means. When we do this, we take a risk. We put something we’ve crafted – whether it’s been the careful work of months or something we scribbled on the back of a napkin while the waiter was taking everyone else’s order – out there for people to see, and judge, and react to. It can be scary, but a fan creator who wants their work to be appreciated takes that risk knowingly. Generally speaking, though, it’s a slightly different feeling when that story or art is taken out of context and shown to a broader audience, like the general public, or an audience very close to the subject, like cast members or authors.
My feeling, therefore – and do let me know what you think in the comments – is that while it’s fine to send a link to a picture or video or story to a friend of yours, especially if they’re also a fan, it’s definitely a bad idea to repost something (come on, that’s stealing) or to send a link to a media outlet, a celebrity’s twitter account, or, well, anyone who might not be familiar with the mad things that sometimes come out of fandom. This is especially true of particularly explicit or high-rating fanworks. If you really, really think the lead actor of your favourite show needs to see a fine-art picture of himself draped, shirtless, over a co-worker, because you love it so much and you ship it so hard – if you really think they’ll want to see it – then it seems only fair that you ask the fan-creator (if you can contact them) first. And then wait for a response. And then don’t just do it anyway regardless of the answer. Not only is this polite, but it saves embarrassment for all parties concerned, and potentially your whole fandom. There’s nothing wrong with writing or drawing this stuff, and it may turn out beautifully, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s going to want to be confronted with it, and there’s no need to make anyone’s life more awkward than it has to be. If someone wants to see fanfiction or fanart about themselves, they’ll probably just go looking for it. If they’re not looking, you don’t need to send them it. And, assorted media personalities, it’s really not necessary to confront everyone you interview with the raunchiest fanart you can find of them. Please don’t.
Putting things on the internet also opens up the issue of plagiarism. Ownership of original characters in fanfiction universes or fanart is a bit of a grey area, legally speaking, but it’s polite to ask somebody for permission before you use their OC in your own work – and to credit them if you do. This may seem hypocritical – we’re all borrowing characters from canon all the time – but we also disclaim them where there might be confusion, and explain where they do come from if there’s any doubt. Why shouldn’t you afford fellow writers the same courtesy?
Personally, as a writer, I’ve had a couple of original characters who’ve passed into ‘fanon’, and it’s immensely flattering when it happens – but I’ve also felt very possessive of my beloved characters that first time they’re used without credit. When you put your heart and soul into building up a character, it can be upsetting to see someone else taking your glory – like if someone rubbed out your name on an essay and wrote their own on there. Again, it’s a matter of asking the person who created the character – even if you end up asking something more along the lines of ‘do you mind if everyone uses this?’
Finally, for now, it’s time for a bit of a think about privacy. Again, we’ve touched upon this in other articles, but it’s worth reiterating; nobody, from the hottest global megastar of the moment to the newest fan on the block, is obliged to let you into their life or their secrets. If you know someone’s name but the rest of the internet doesn’t, stick to their screen name in public forums. If you don’t know somebody’s name and they don’t want to tell you, respect their decision; they probably have their reasons. Similarly, if you ask where someone’s from and they name a country or even a continent rather than a town, or you ask something in a celebrity’s Q & A session and get a vague or flippant answer, please don’t push or get upset about it. It’s not because they hate you, it’s just that they’re guarding their privacy. And don’t forget to stand your ground if you feel your privacy is being invaded, too. You’re just as important as any celebrity.
As long as we all respect each other, fandom can be a great place to be, so let’s just remember to be conscious of other people’s privacy and get permission before trying to raise someone’s profile (they may not want it raised, after all, or not in the way you intend) and continue to have a fabulous time.
Eleanor Musgrove (apologises for being preachy, but has seen a few too many celebrities being presented with raunchy fanart by people who are not the artists, of late)