Lilith (lilithilien) wrote in life_wo_fanlib,

Workers of the World Unite: An Old School Marxist Analysis of FanLib vs. Fandom

I've been watching the FanLib debacle roll out (and roll over its own toes) since the beginning, commenting a bit but mainly watching you guys go to town. And can I just say, when y'all go to town you really go to town!

I haven't joined in the dialogue yet because so many people have said what I think in much more eloquent ways. But tonight while chatting with sarcasticchick and reading anqualupin's insightful analysis on the irreconcilable differences between fandom and FanLib, we realized something: This is old school Marxist thought in action.

anqualupin wrote: "[Our] social network is valued because it is a social network, not simply because it is associated with the production of product. This is what FanLib is not getting. Since in their world value is judged solely by the products produced, the idea that the social interactions themselves are highly valued in addition to the product is incomprehensible to them."

Well, as soon as I saw that, I dusted off my old marxist texts from grad school, especially Erich Fromm, and reread what they had to say about alienation. And sure enough, this perfectly suits a Marxist analysis. We have to start with what Marx thought of historical materialism: the idea that we're shaped not just by what we produce but how we produce it, and that losing control of either our products or the means of production cannot help but separate us from our true selves. (German Ideology).

Our self-created system for sharing our stories, imperfect as it might be, seems to be as genuine an expression of what Marx considers wealth (and he's not talking in terms of monetary wealth here but social and intellectual self-realization) as any I've ever heard. The value of fandom's social ties is being social, as many (including anqualupin) have noted. Not that quality isn't an issue (as some, including meckinock, are rightly concerned); of course we want to read good stuff. But in fact, I believe that in a community like ours (or communities, I should say, because I don't mean to imply that fandom is anything more than a beautifully fragmented non-hierarchal 'verse), there's an incredible opportunity to improve writing skills, and to want to improve. We're not just clocking in from 9-5 here! I also think the reccers (not to mention flisters linking to good stories) make sure the cream rises to the top ... or at least that we don't miss the hot Severus Snape/Peter Petrelli/Samwise Gamgee handcuffs 3some that's going around. But underlying that, if you want it, is a place where authors and readers give and take in a dynamic very similar to what I think Marx meant when he wrote of how important equal exchanges are in social relations: " can only be exchanged for love, trust for trust ... Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life." (Econ & Phil Ms)

In direct contrast to this is how capitalism deprives our work from being the expression of our creativity and self-realization: "The object produced by labor, its product, now stands opposed to it as an alien being … The product of labor is labor which has been embodied in an object and turned into a physical thing; this product is an objectification of labor." (Econ & Phil Ms)

This is what FanLib wants to do with fan-created stories. They don't care about the process of writing or reccing or reading, nor should they. The only use they have for stories (their "value proposition", as they keep saying) is as products to be utilized and commodified. In this effort, we are merely workers in their fanfic factory. It's not just that they want to make money off us (which they do) but worse, with ideas like "colouring in the lines", they're intent on devaluing the very process of creation itself—as well as our social interactions involved in feedback, reccing, etc. that have all grown up in fandom. This brings up what Fromm says is Marx's central critique of capitalism: "not the injustice in the distribution of wealth; it is the perversion of labor into forced, alienated, meaningless labor, hence the transformation of man into a 'crippled monstrosity.'" (Marx's Concept of Man)

In return for all these meaningless things like social interaction, they offer shinies like "special-ness", t-shirts, and a chance to touch the stars (metaphorically, I'm afraid). This is pure and simple fetishization—the rewards FanLib offers are a stand in for what we (or at least some of us) really want: good stories to read, a receptive audience for what we write, and a place where our creativity and uniqueness is valued.

And it's on this point that FanLib and fandom can never be reconciled, because it's really the fundamental debate between capitalism and the organic community (even what Marx would have called a communist one) that's grown up within fandom. That's not goign to be fixed by reaching out to us, by changing their TOS, not even by offering us pots of money for our stories. Not that we'd turn down pots of money, but it wouldn't replace what we have now.

I'm tempted to pump my fist and say "workers of the world unite." Fortunately, that seems unnecessary. As diverse as our fandoms might be, in the always reasoned objections to (and sometimes hilarious responses from) FanLib, we've found a common cause.

Edited to incorporate comments below
Tags: discussion
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