Fandom Wank and history

At ICFA-29, I presented a paper entitled “Fandom Wank and History.” Here’s its abstract. The same basic information has been accepted for publication in an edited volume about community and online tools. I plan to expand the essay greatly by adding in a discussion of The Ms.Scribe Story to illustrate how blog-based historical texts are generated with the benefit of time and hindsight.

Abstract: Fandom Wank and history

Historical discourse is firmly situated in the realm of the trace: a document, be it a bill of sale or the registry of a wedding, provides unmistakable proof that an event occurred, and historians study such traces to construct a narrative document based (one hopes) in fact. As the realm of res gestae (things done), history’s rhetorical activity is one of telling the truth. However, the Internet muddies this historical trace by permitting deliberate rewriting and obfuscation: blog posts can be rewritten; Web sites can be taken down; online comments can be edited.

One site that dramatically illustrates the possibility of this activity in the realm of fandom is Fandom Wank, a blog-based online community that exists solely to describe—and mock—fandom blowups. Descriptions of altered traces abound: offending entries edited, entire blogs deleted, entries locked or deleted, comments disabled. Yet next to these descriptions of altered traces may sit proof of the original text: damning screen shots, IP address traces, links to archived Web pages. The wank I used to illustrate my paper, chosen because it was recent, because it has sensational elements, and because it illustrated all my points, is called How NOT to Date a Celebrity.

Fandom Wank foregrounds the activity of fans who use blogs to collaboratively write a kind of history of an event as it happens by tracking elements of the trace even as the trace is being erased and literally rewritten, thus constructing a new form of historical writing, with its own rules of acceptable proof of the trace. I argue that fan blogs discussing current events in fan culture are actually historical writings that are imbued with community-specific meaning. The point of such an activity is to create a collaborative text that brings together relevant traces, documentation, and testimony in an effort to construct a persuasive document.

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