The Irony of Revolutionaries. And Fanfiction.

Life’s kept me pretty busy lately.  It’s the end of the school year, which means paperwork, correcting, and of course more paperwork.  I’ve got my voice lessons each week, and last weekend and this weekend upcoming I have things to do with the studio.  Bard and I have been spending a lot of time together, which is wonderful, as always.  It’s all left little time for creative writing outside of this blog, and even that doesn’t always get the attention I’d like to give to it.  Sorry, blog.  Anyway, I have a forum over on Fanfiction.net dedicated to Dragon Age fanfiction, and recently a member messaged me to ask me to delete a post.

I went and logged in, and was surprised at the layout change.  But apparently in my time away from the site a lot of other things have changed.  There’s apparently a big issue with story deletions going on over on the site right now.  The issue isn’t one that’s been taken on by the moderators, but by a group of self-proclaimed revolutionaries who pride themselves on following the rules and making sure everyone else follows the rules OR ELSE.

There comes a great irony about revolutionaries.  In many cases of fanatic revolutionaries, those revolting eventually become as bad as that which they were protesting.  Those that protest tyranny and preach freedom become tyrannical in their pursuit to protect such freedoms.  The French Revolution began when the masses had enough of the decadence of the wealthy, and the oppression they wielded as a result of their wealth and status.  So they did something about it and beheaded the aristocracy.  But that wasn’t enough, because people began to suspect other people of sympathizing with the aristocracy, and then those suspects were beheaded.  The cycle continued until even the leaders of the revolution were being beheaded for whatever reason.

Fanaticism is dangerous, and no one is more fanatical than a convert– to quote Zedd from Wizard’s First Ruleby Terry Goodkind.  In the link to wtffanfiction’s tumblr posted above, some screenshots from these self-proclaimed critics and staunch rule followers show an interesting trend.  The reviews aren’t aimed at improving the story, or suggesting that the author pay more attention to the site’s rules: they are rude, arrogant, mean, and threatening, with the tone of “If you don’t do X, I will do Y.  Consider yourself warned.”

I understand rules, and that while some don’t always make sense, there is a need to abide by them for the good of a community.  Fanfiction.net is not for profit, it’s huge, and there’s a lot out there.  There are suggested standards of quality, but on a site so huge with so many users (many of whom are quite prolific), it’s hard to police.  The guidelines are there and they can only hope and pray people follow them.  The following guidelines for community etiquette are from the account section:

FanFiction.Net does not filter content and is an open system that trusts the writer’s judgement. However, there is an inherent responsibility that falls to writers as a result.

Here is a list of conducts that should always be observed:

  1. Spell check all story and poetry. There is no excuse for not performing this duty. If you do not have a word processor that has the spell checking feature, use a search engine such as Google.com to find one.
  2. Proofread all entries for grammar and other aspects of writing before submission. ‘Hot off the press’ content is often riddled with errors. No one is perfect but it is the duty of the writer to perform to the best of his/her ability.
  3. Respect the reviewers. Not all reviews will strictly praise the work. If someone rightfully criticizes a portion of the writing, take it as a compliment that the reviewer has opted to spend his/her valuable time to help improve your writing.
  4. Everyone here is an aspiring writer. Respect your fellow members and lend a helping a hand when they need it. Like many things, the path to becoming a better writer is often a two way street.
  5. Use proper textual formatting. For example: using only capital letters in the story title, summary, or content is not only incorrect but also a disregard for the language itself.

It seems that the Fanfiction Revolutionaries are targeting people who don’t do 1, 2, 3 and 5.  If those are guidelines for etiquette that shows a respect for storytelling, writing, and language, that’s one thing.  But in their draconian quest to make sure everyone follows The Rules (Or Else!) they are neglecting to follow them.  Oh, sure, it’s just one rule: rule 4 about respecting and lending a helping hand.  But we’re promoting The Rules here, so we can be selective, right?

From what I’ve seen in my reading, research, and experiences, many times revolutionaries will start being selective because they feel entitled.  In their minds they are doing a service, and therefore must be granted some sort of exception to at least one rule.  In the French Revolution, the basic idea was to end the oppression of the powerful and exist in liberty, equality, and fraternity.  But those who ascended to power within the ranks of the revolution had more liberty, were more equal, and shared more fraternity with other powerful members.  In Dragon Age 2, Meredith feels entitled to rule Kirkwall after Viscount Dumar’s death (by beheading, interestingly enough) because she thinks she’s the only one who can protect it.  Fanatic revolutionaries, and particularly their leaders, tend to think they are the only ones who can solve the problem, and their way is the right way.

Not that this issue with fanfiction.net is a perfect analogy.  But by relying solely on the community to police itself, they are now stuck with a slew of stories being reported for infractions as major as graphic MA-rated content or as minor as formatting.  And with a slew of reports coming in, there’s no way they can examine every last one, so they do what’s easiest: delete the story and suspend the account for a few days and move on.  In the mean time the revolutionary group revels in their power, and the people are left wondering what’s next.

When will legitimate stories that are well-written and do abide by the rules start getting taken down?  Can anyone or any group stand up to this group of revolutionaries, without fear of retribution?  Can the staff of Fanfiction.net pause to closely examine abuse reports, or will they just keep purging because it’s the quickest and easiest thing to do?

There are no easy answers.  In their defense, it’s a free site that allows us the opportunity to play and have fun, so we should respect their rules.  But to make another analogy, this group of revolutionary critics is like the big kids coming onto the playground and kicking the little kids around.  Because the little kids are legitimately behaving badly?  No.  Just because they’re bigger, and just because they can.  It’s bullying, and if fanfiction.net could be slightly less harried for a few moments, perhaps they’d see that and consider putting a policy in place about that.

I don’t see that happening, simply because it’s a free site and it’s so big.  They did update on the front page on June 4th stating their policy on MA content has not changed since 2002, which is one thing, but the fact is the abuse reports are going beyond that to the nitpicky and downright mean.

I’m not planning my own reactionary revolution.  Mostly I just feel sad that this group’s only source of joy is picking on people online.  However, I’ll be interested to see how things pan out, and if the revolution gains momentum, or just dies out when the fun fades.

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7 comments on “The Irony of Revolutionaries. And Fanfiction.

  1. ugh – some of my stuff is so full of grammatical errors…the poor grammar police will probably die when they read it. Oh wait – mine is a dying fandom that very few people read – I’m probably safe lol.

    • There are some fandoms that are hugely populated and very mainstream that are probably full of some legitimate violations in content and format. That’s one thing. But this group’s going around trolling for anything they can find to take down a story. Also, who knows what their abuse reports say? They could say they’re reporting for one thing and actually say something else, and the harried ff.net team just takes the story down and suspends the user for a few days. That’s what’s rotten in the state of fanfiction, to me at least.

  2. I think the best way to deter any “revolution” is to ignore it. That may not be entirely true, but if people are reacting, then the “revolutionaries” are able to continue what they’re doing, because it gets noticed. It’s like with kids: They look for some kind of validation, they get ignored, they get angry and become louder, they get ignored, they become even louder, they get ignored, they go away, or at least, turn their attention elsewhere.

    Or so we hope.

    • That’s what I’m hoping happens here. I think it’s getting attention because so many stories went *poof* so quickly, and then these people couldn’t leave well enough alone and slink quietly onto their next victim and/or project. People are aware of what’s going on at least, and who’s mostly behind it, so hopefully some caution and a measure of care will help people keep their stories safe. I also think it’s happening in the really large fandoms mostly, places where there’s a high popularity and generally low quality either due to age, carelessness, or overall lack of understanding of the rules of writing. Then again, maybe they’re trolling the lower popularity forums as well. Either way, just being careful and aware without freaking out is probably the best way to handle it.

      For now.

  3. I did some checking, most seem to be young, and don’t write, or post their writing on there. Dish it out but can’t take it. Some are authors, but they seem to write for fandoms I care nothing about. So, I can only assume they are decent writers. Though they all share a “holier than thou” attitude. They are bullies with power and are reveling in it. Ignoring them is what I intend to do.

    Thanks for this lovely and well thought out post!

    • Thank YOU for that information! None of it is too surprising, particularly the attitude of holier than thou. I’m not too worried about my works, though now that I’ve said that I’ve probably jinxed myself 😉 I’m ignoring them as well; take away their attention, and you take away their power. I just think the whole situation is oddly fascinating.

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