Why Study Fan Archives?: An Interview with Gail DeKosnik (Part Three)

As we think about the challenges of developing a more diverse and inclusive media culture, you suggest that some archives do not simply collect existing works but are generative, actively shaping the culture that they collect, through various mechanisms. So, what role do you think fan archives have played in encouraging more cultural production by and about people of color?

Fan fiction archives are not merely repositories for works that already exist in the world; rather they are what Wolfgang Ernst calls “dynarchives” ­­ archives that change and expand with the proliferation of the cultural genres that the archives are built to store.

I go a step further than Ernst and argue that fan fiction archives are generative ­­ they incentivize fans to produce more of what is being archived ­­ and when archives host writing festivals, events, “ficathons,” and fic “exchanges” like Yuletide, they explicitly call upon a community to write more and more of a certain subgenre or category of fanfic.

In Chapter 4 of the book, I discuss a number of fan writing challenges, most of them staged by the group “dark_agenda,” that called upon fans to write stories about characters of color. These “archive events” seek to challenge the dominance of white characters in the larger Western Mediascape, the Western Media Archive as a whole (by which I mean the entirety of U.S.­ and European­produced audiovisual media texts, which all too frequently feature white leading characters, with non­white characters often supporting, propping up, or “pedestaling” them).

These writing challenges invite fans to reflect upon the ways that fandom, which is motivated by deep interior and individualized feelings, can be very heavily influenced and even structured by the biases and prejudices of the media industries. I view these challenges as challenging fans to try to link their politics (for example, a belief in racial equality) to their fannish practices, and to bring into being, if only in fan fiction, a mediascape that has more equal representation of races and ethnicities ­­ to help imagine and create the kind of mediascape that they think should exist in the world.

You were part of a generation of fan scholars who were, in many cases, introduced to the field through Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. One shared trait among many of you was the application of performance theory approaches to thinking about fan cultural production. What do we learn if we think about fan productions as performances rather than or in addition to being read as texts?

Francesca Coppa’s great essay in Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, which I teach at least once every year, is really the basis for much of my thinking around how performance studies and fan studies intersect. As I write in the book, I consider Coppa’s “Writing Bodies in Space” and Kurt Lancaster’s book Interacting with Babylon 5 to be the foundational texts of a line of scholarship that merges performance studies and fan studies.

Building on their work, I argue in Rogue Archives that fans’ desire to perform and re­perform, and differently perform, stories and characters that many people know and have in common, which is a fundamental drive in both theater making and fan fiction writing, has led to the rise of a different imperative in cultural preservation than any that existed before.

In other words, because digital culture makes constant re­performance possible to produce and share very widely, digital archiving has had to develop to account for that highly active performance culture. And digital archiving itself is not static, it evolves, and makes its own repertoires, and has had to alter and refine its own performance technique and its own technical levels of performance (as in “high ­performance”) as it has tried to preserve the explosion of creative output from Internet users.

If you attended a festival of plays where every play was being performed as many ways as different people could think to stage them, and where there was an infinite capacity for new stages to be built right away, and for new versions of each one of those plays to be staged, and if you tried to somehow preserve all of those, every iteration and variant of every play in that ever­ expanding festival ­­ that’s what Internet fan fiction archivists have been trying to do.

The prevailing logics of digital networked cultural production are quite different than those of print culture: digital culture is a performance culture, while print culture thought of itself as a text culture, a static culture, where works were “locked” into place and they were either “official” or “unofficial.” Everyone knows that it’s much easier to archive texts than performances. Well, now, digital archivists have to be in the business of archiving performances, not texts.

You dig back deep enough into fan history to describe the moment of transition towards digital fan culture and the resistances some fans had to moving away from a print­-based and face-­to-­face conception of fandom. What can we learn by understanding those resistances more fully? And how might we connect them to issues about digital equity and access more generally? What role did fandom have in overcoming the digital divide between male and female users and what might this suggest in terms of strategies for confronting other kinds of digital divides and participation gaps?

As you (Henry ­­ and also Cynthia Jenkins) told me in your interview for the book, fans who were active in real­world spaces, in face­to­face fan groups, meetings, and cons, at the time that the Internet was initially becoming a site of fandom, were quite attentive to issues of unequal access, to the “digital divide” between fans who had routine access to computers and the Internet (say, at their jobs) and fans who did not.

You and many others recalled that many fans whose fannish world had been defined wholly by print zines and in­ person interaction felt shut out, excluded, from this other world of fandom that arose in this virtual, online space. The temporalities of those fan worlds were dramatically different: fan conventions like Escapade took place once every year, new zine issues were published maybe twice a year or maybe monthly, but on the Internet, fan discussion took place daily.

So fans who had computer access printed out fan discussion threads and took those pages to meetings and passed them around, and they organized donations of computers to fans who couldn’t afford them, and there were cons at which some fans would set up a few computers in a room and demo Internet fan sites for fans who had never been online, and show them what participation in that world looked like.

Fans of that period, the early-­to-­mid­’90s, seemed to do a great job at outreach and onboarding, organizing tutoring events and equipment donations ­­ people who are working on issues of the digital divide and new literacies today can really learn a lot from that era of fan history.

At the same time, as I write in the book, there was a ton of strife between “print fans” and “net fans,” for many many reasons, because they experienced and defined and practiced fandom so differently (though, I note, many fans straddled both worlds and both identities).

In the past, researchers have thrown up their hands when asked how expansive fan archives really are given the difficulty of accurately counting these dispersed and partially underground collections. Yet you and your team have been using new tools and techniques to give us some more accurate data in response to this question. Can you give us a progress report on what you are finding?

I was fortunate enough to apply for, and receive, a $50,000 grant from the Hellman Fellows Fund, as well as some smaller grants from the Townsend Center for the Humanities and the UC Berkeley Senate Faculty Committee on Research which allowed me to fund a research team composed of myself, my colleague Prof. Laurent El Ghaoui (a statistician on Berkeley’s

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science faculty), computer science Ph.D. and undergraduate students, and Ph.D. and undergrad students from humanities disciplines as well. I called that team “Fan Data,” and we worked for more than a year to build data scrapers that could “count” Internet fan fiction archives. I wanted to ascertain how large fan fiction archives are in terms of number of stories, number of authors, number of reviewers, etc., and I wanted to graph their growth over time, and I wanted to quantify their rates of productivity ­­ how many new stories were uploaded to each archive per month.

We scraped Fanfiction.net and the Archive of Our Own, mostly, but also did some interesting analysis of a Usenet X ­Files fan fiction community, the Gossamer archive (the largest repository of X­Files fanfic and the largest single­fandom fic archive, to my knowledge), and several H arry Potter LiveJournal communities. All of our visualizations can be found in the Conclusion to R ogue Archives.

Unfortunately, those scrapers aren’t available to the public, and I’m not sure that they should be, as we don’t want loads of people running scrapers on active websites all the time. (Apologies to FF.net and AO3 if our team caused any of the archives we scraped any inconvenience or interruptions of service!!!!).

I would love to conceive of some way that maybe my team could one day launch a service that would periodically measure these archives, ideally with their administrators’ permission (we did get the Gossamer archivists’ permission), and release that data to the public on a website. Perhaps we could ask scholars to pay us a nominal fee for conducting similar scrapes and creating visualizations of other websites with vast amounts of user­generated content.

Those are dreams I have for the future, but given that I can only pay researchers to work on such projects with grant monies, and grant applications take incredible amounts of time and don’t always (or often) meet with success, I have to weigh the costs and benefits of furthering my data science/digital humanities (DS/DH) research against doing more traditional scholarship (i.e., reading books and journal articles, studying cultural texts/objects/performances, perhaps conducting interviews and transcribing them, and writing essays or chapters). Because grant applications for DS/DH take SO much time, I do a lot more traditional humanities scholarship than DS/DH scholarship.

That said, I am committed to advancing DS/DH. I will be publishing another DS/DH article soon, in which I share the results of using a topic modeling tool on Twitter, for the controversial hashtag #CancelColbert. I like to work with graduate students interested in DS/DH methods, and a colleague of mine, Prof. Keith Feldman in Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies department, and I are collaborating with a number of grad students in our working group, The Color of New Media (which focuses on scholarship at the intersection of critical race studies, gender and women’s studies, transnational studies, and new media studies), on a book project called # identity: Hashtagging Race, Gender, Sex, and Nation, which will feature DS/DH research in some capacity ­­ potentially on a dedicated website that accompanies the publication of a print book.

I also got some teaching grants to support a seminar that I’m leading this fall, called “Making Sense of Cultural Data,” that brings together what I call “Data Science Professionals” or “DS Pros” and undergraduate and graduate students, to help students conduct their own original research projects, both individual and group projects, using leading­edge data science tools.

My goal with that course is to envision a new kind of curriculum that invites technical and non­technical faculty and students to collaborate and teach one another and learn from one another.

I think that the worlds of data science (text analytics including topic modeling, network analysis, geospatial mapping, new forms of image search, etc.) and the worlds of the arts, design, and humanities really need to come much closer together. We can’t have data science only ask and answer questions that matter to corporations and government bodies ­­ it has to ask and answer humanistic, social scientific, artistic, and design questions, too. And we can’t have arts/humanities/social science/design scholars ignore the potentials of data science; we have to get these scholars to embrace and love what data tools and computational approaches can offer them.

At least some students need to have a foot in both worlds, going forward, so that the “two cultures,” as C.P. Snow would say, can speak to one another and conduct new, original, and important research.

Abigail De Kosnik is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Berkeley Center for New Media (BCNM, bcnm.berkeley.edu) and the Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies (TDPS, tdps.berkeley.edu).  She is the author of Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom (MIT Press, 2016).  She has published articles on media fandom, popular digital culture, and performance studies in Cinema Journal, The International Journal of Communication, Modern Drama, Transformative Works and Cultures and elsewhere.  She is the co-editor, with Sam Ford and C. Lee Harrington, of the edited essay collection The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (University Press of Mississippi, 2011).

Why Study Fan Archives?: An Interview with Abigail De Kosnik (Part Two)

Given the sheer volume of fan works produced, it is perhaps not realistic to imagine every text will be saved, so what are some of the ways the community has sought to determine which texts are worth preserving for future generations? Is what you call “the selective tradition” an inevitable development given the sheer expansion of cultural production or are there alternative ways of thinking about the value of assembling and preserving cultural works?

Actually the way that data storage is developing, more and more storage is becoming available at lower and lower prices. As long as digital networked preservation is a going concern, I think that fan archives can actually be comprehensive ­­ I think that potentially everything that takes the form of digital data can be saved! At least from a technical perspective.

What I emphasize in the book is that actually, labor is a far scarcer resource than technology. So, while it will be technically feasible to preserve many fandoms’ output in their entirety, what if there comes a day when people cease to care about saving digital cultural production? I think that it’s possible that even now, many people believe (falsely) that everything they do online is preserved somewhere, by the companies that run the social media platforms on which they participate, and don’t really sense a need to do anything to save their posts or their fan works, or others’ fan works.

But only fan labor has made possible the multi­fandom archive Archive of Our Own (AO3) and the great single ­fandom archives that preceded it, such as Gossamer and Trekiverse. These archives are all non­profit fan­ owned and fan­ operated sites.

Fanfiction.net is for­ profit and definitely does not operate as an archive ­­ it has freely deleted fan works several times in its history. Tumblr is not an archive for fan works. YouTube is not an archive for fan works. For ­profit corporate­ owned sites have no commitment to the long­  term preservation of fans’ cultural productions.

Only when fans own their own servers, as the famous AO3 rallying cry goes ­­ and only as long as fans are willing to do the work of building and maintaining the archives that live on those servers, and interfacing with their users and with the press, and putting redundancy measures in place, and making policy decisions and recruiting fellow volunteers and all of the other responsibilities involved with running an archive ­­ will fan archives exist.

So while I don’t think that fan fiction is too large a genre to completely archive, I do fear that at some point, the preponderance of corporate ­owned social media may lull fans into thinking that they don’t have to appoint themselves archivists of their communities’ material. If fans stop volunteering to fulfill this important cultural role, then fan works will cease to be archived in a reliable way.

 

You’ve written much here and elsewhere about issues of fan labor. Who does the work of producing and maintaining these archives? What kinds of rewards do they receive for their efforts? What are alternative ways of thinking about how to compensate for this labor?

In my interviews with fan archivists, I was struck by how passionately they felt about digital preservation of fan works, how important they thought it was, how deeply they thought about how the structure and functions of their archives. All of the fan archivists that I spoke to had strong technical skills ­­ that’s one reason that I call them “techno­volunteers,” they volunteer because they have an intuitive sense for how technology could be used to make enduring cultural archives, if only a volunteer stepped in to make that happen ­­ but not all, or even many, of them were professional programmers.

The reward of archiving, it seems, is largely the endurance of the archive itself, because what all archivists talked about was how appalled they have been at seeing fan works, or even large fan archives, disappear. Another reward that many interviewees spoke of was the relationships they got to build because of their archival activities, and also what archiving had taught them about the diversity of fandom.

As for compensation, well, almost every archivist said that their fan archives cost them money, because they have to pay for server space or simply because they have to pour time and effort into these non­income-­generating projects. But the compensation that I would like to see for fan archivists is simply greater recognition. I wish that fans valorized their archivists the way they valorize their favorite fan artists and authors and vidders.

Techno­volunteers tend to be invisible because many users assume that online archives are automated to the point that nobody in particular needs to actually own and operate the archives, and make regular decisions and oversee them and steer and guide and maintain them, and that simply isn’t the case. Even a highly automated archive has at least one person, and usually more, working hard behind ­the­ scenes, at the “back end.”

In other words, I argue that digital archive users tend to confuse the “servers” (the people who volunteer to serve them by building them working archives) and “servers” (the hardware that serves up fan works on demand). Fan archivists are humans, not machines. They deserve as much respect and admiration as prominent fan creators.

Can you say something about your own archiving practices in relation to the production of this book ­­ for example, you’ve conducted a large number of oral histories that are potential resources for constructing the history of fandom as a community quite apart from your specific uses of this material. What do you see as your obligations as a researcher in terms of the material you have collected?

I’m very happy to report that we donated both the audio files and the transcripts of all of our interviews ­­ under the title “Fan Fiction and Internet Memory,” which was the official title of our oral history project ­­ to the University of Iowa Libraries, because those Libraries have a special collection of “Fandom­Related Collections”: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/sc/resources/FandomResources/. (When I say “our” oral history project, I want to credit my fellow interviewers, Andrea Horbinski and Lisa Cronin, as well as Adam Hutz, Kelsey Wong, and all of our transcribers ­­ all of my team members were UC Berkeley graduate or undergraduate students at the time we conducted the interviews and got them transcribed.) While our interview archive hasn’t yet been ingested, I hope to see it listed on that page soon! And eventually, I would love to work with U. of Iowa to get our transcripts available online for other researchers to use.

Abigail De Kosnik is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Berkeley Center for New Media (BCNM, bcnm.berkeley.edu) and the Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies (TDPS, tdps.berkeley.edu).  She is the author of Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom (MIT Press, 2016).  She has published articles on media fandom, popular digital culture, and performance studies in Cinema Journal, The International Journal of Communication, Modern Drama, Transformative Works and Cultures and elsewhere.  She is the co-editor, with Sam Ford and C. Lee Harrington, of the edited essay collection The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (University Press of Mississippi, 2011).

Why Study Fan Archives: An Interview with Abigail De Kosnik (Part One)

 

Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse’s Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Internet Age introduced a new generation of fan scholars and their work: as a cohort, these women were deeply embedded in the fan communities about which they wrote (“aca-fans”), they had come of age with digital media, they combined ethnographic and textual modes of analysis, they were as interested in how fan fiction was produced as they were in why it was produced, and they introduced a range of new theoretical paradigms.

Abigail De Kosnik wrote one of the essays from that collection that I return to most often in my own writing and teaching, and I’ve been lucky enough to get to know her as a friend and thinking partner in the years since the book appeared.

While other fans (academic and otherwise) had suggested connections between fan fiction and various literary texts that appropriate and remix characters from existing works, De Kosnik’s “Archontic Literature” framing was the first to systematically explore those connections, linking the study of fandom to larger conversations about how writers relate to cultural and historical archives, a topic she returns to in her current book to stunning effect. While other writers have explored a range of fannish practices, including, most influentially, fan fiction writing, fan video practices, and now, in recent years, fan activism, Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom, which MIT Press published this week,  focuses on fan archiving practices as central to the evolution of digital cultural practices more generally.

Here, she combines oral history, recovering some key chapters in the evolution of online fandom, with a rich theoretical exploration, one that is particularly drawn to metaphors from performance studies.  I can only describe Rogue Archives as a tour de force. The book dramatically expands the range of theoretical texts and traditions that fandom studies might draw on for contextualizing the production, circulation, archiving, and consumption of fan fiction; De Kosnik makes understanding fandom’s labor in preserving its cultural memory central to many core debates about digital culture.

She writes here, among other things, about the archive and the repertoire, the instability and ephemerality of digital memory, ongoing debates about canons and alternative ways of constructing cultural traditions, the performative and bodily dimensions of fan fiction, different kinds of fan performances, debates about free and immaterial labor, fandom’s transition from print-based to digital practices, alternative temporalities of media consumption, and notions of authorship in fandom. She yokes these various strands  via the two different meanings of archive she proposes – in terms of the material practices through which fan fiction is preserved and rendered accessible to a larger group of readers and the archive as the set of previous texts which readers and writers draw upon in processing new stories. This is going to be a very important book, not simply for fandom studies, but across a range of other disciplines that she draws reconceptualizes in the pursuit of her project.

What follows is the first of three installments of an interview with De Kosnik about the book and its contributions to our understanding of fandom, archives, digital culture, and popular memory.

Through the years, fandom studies has investigated a wide range of fan practices ­­ fan fiction, fan vidding, Wizard Rock, Cosplay, Memes, etc. but there has been relatively little focus on fan archiving practices, which to some may seem like a largely technical issue. So, why study fan archives? What do these practices tell us about fandom? What might the study of fan archiving practices contribute to information science more generally? In what ways are fan archives illustrative of other memory practices within digital culture?

Fan fiction archives were among the first high ­volume, high­ traffic Internet archives to be built. Plenty of people were using the nascent Internet and World Wide Web (in the early ’90s) to construct enormous archives of information that were free and open online, but fan fiction archives were, as far as I can te ll, the most active of these early digital archives ­­ because fan fiction was being written and uploaded (or sent in to archive administrators) at a fast and furious rate.

Fan fiction archives can teach information science about what it means to try to preserve culture in the moment of its unfolding, cultural forms at their peak production levels. Information science understands a lot about preserving cultural objects that are old, that have taken on great significance in the time since their release, but preserving digital culture means archiving texts, images, video, and motion graphics a s they are circulating, when they’re the most relevant, not when they are already relegated to “the past.”

Fan fiction archives led the way in the effort to try to effectively store, and make available, digital cultural works as they were being generated. What archivists of both physical and digital objects share is a need to keep and maintain those objects because they are important, and they are in constant threat of being lost. And digital objects are even more prone to sudden disappearance than physical ones ­­ a hosting company can decide not to host your fan fiction works anymore, or an archivist can “flounce” from their archive and simply shut it down, or a social media platform can opt to delete fanfic stories without notifying anyone, or servers can simply crash.

Fan fiction archivists got into the digital preservation game so early that they definitely encountered all of these dangers and more, and have collectively created many defenses against digital loss and disappearance that all archivists can and should learn from.

You open the book with a compelling statement, “memory has gone rogue.” In what sense are the practices you describe throughout the book “rogue”? For example, the recent Paramount/CBS Guidelines for Star Trek fan films have specific stipulations about how fan films can be stored and transmitted (streaming but not in a material format such as video or dvd). What’s at stake in this effort by the studio to dictate fan archiving practices?

I argue that cultural memory has “gone rogue” because so many digital cultural preservation projects are run, not by large state­sponsored museums, libraries, and archives and trained Library and Information Science professionals, but by amateurs, hackers, volunteers, pirates, and fans.

People who have no formal training or professional experience as archivists, but who have some understanding of how networked technology can be used to store digital works and keep them available over long periods of time and are passionate about actualizing this potential, have taken it upon themselves to design, build, and maintain online repositories.

I’m thinking of people like Brewster Kahle, who founded the massive Internet Archive, anonymous pirates who have created some of the most robust, most accessible film libraries in the world (though they are illicit), and media fans, who have sought to preserve their own communities’ vast amounts of cultural production. People like these are leading the fight to preserve culture digitally; their discoveries and best practices are paving the way for future online archival efforts.

Unfortunately, the very media corporations that have the most to gain from digital media being archived and made widely available to future generations (for example: Paramount depends on the Star Trek fandom continuing on forever, which means that it depends on fans being able to access as many Trek texts as possible, both official and fan­made) seem to often be hostile to preservation projects and do not seem to prioritize long­term storage and circulation at all (as in the example that you gave).

Towards the end of my book, I discuss the fact that fans have basically “taken license” with media texts for a long time ­­ in other words, fans aren’t waiting, and never were waiting, for corporations to finally see the wisdom in appending Creative Commons licenses to their products so that finally fans could be “authorized” to transform with attribution and circulate noncommercially. Rather, fans have simply taken whatever license they wished with media products ­­ they’ve remixed them however they’ve wanted, shared them as widely as they wanted to, safeguarded them however they’ve deemed necessary.

Fan creativity only promotes media commodities and keeps interest in them alive, so far from fan archivists doing any harm to media companies by flouting their rules regarding fan works, I think that these volunteer archivists are working hard for the benefit and profit of these companies by inventing effective archival techniques for their fellow fans’ output.

Fan fiction has often been described as transient, disposable, and perhaps most damningly, only of interest within a particular social circle of friends. Even many fans would argue that most of what gets produced is not especially good by traditional standards. So why should we care whether the archive of previous fan works is preserved or not?

I think that it’s likely that every reader of fan fiction has very strong opinions about what makes a fan fiction story “good” or “bad.” But in my view, one of the greatest ethical lessons to be learned from participating in fandom is that one can’t judge the quality of fan works for others. What strikes one reader as a terrible, trope ­ridden, immature fan story may strike another as just the kind of story that they want to read at a given moment in time. Even a story that is full of misspellings and bad grammar can offer a compelling version of characters and their dynamics, or a fascinating plot line, or really lively dialogue.

And I don’t mean to suggest that plot lines have to be fascinating, or dialogue has to be lively ­­ actually, I very much enjoy fanfics that work like mood pieces, or tone poems, in which very little happens and very little is said, and we just get some insight into a character’s state of mind.

In other words, fan fiction archives specifically work to offer fans the greatest possible multiplicity of approaches to, and versions of, media universes, so that every fan may choose which fan stories “work” for them (and different types of stories may “work” at very different points in a fan’s life). Fan fiction archives promote this ethos of acceptance that there is tremendous diversity in cultural tastes and preferences.

Fan fiction archives’ mission is to preserve all fan works for all fans, not to judge which are “worth” saving and which are not worthy. Fan critics can debate which fan works, in any given universe, are the “best,” but fan archivists strive to preserve all of the works, as much as they can ­­ because they value their fandoms as important and significant living cultural communities, and they feel that every corner of their cultures is worth safeguarding.

Abigail De Kosnik is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Berkeley Center for New Media and the Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies.  She is the author of Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom (MIT Press, 2016).  She has published articles on media fandom, popular digital culture, and performance studies in Cinema Journal, The International Journal of Communication, Modern Drama, Transformative Works and Cultures and elsewhere.  She is the co-editor, with Sam Ford and C. Lee Harrington, of the edited essay collection The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (University Press of Mississippi, 2011).

What Fan Media Makers Should Know About Transformative Use: A Conversation with Rebecca Tushnet (Part Two)

You make what some will find to be a provocative statement above: “The Star Trek works have also been published for a very long time, and have had many chances to earn a return already, which can favor a finding of fair use.” So, let’s be clear about what you are saying here. Are you saying that if an IP holder has made more than enough money, it suddenly starts to lose some of its copyright protections?

The courts’ reasoning here is not that the copyright owner has made “enough” money—in some of these cases (and subsequent cases relying on them), the works were previously very successful, in others not so much—but rather that the copyright owner has had a fair chance to economically exploit the work, and also that its wide availability is more likely to justify responses and reworkings. See, e.g., Seltzer v. Green Day, Inc., 725 F.3d 1170, 1178 (9th Cir. 2013) (“Scream Icon was widely disseminated, both on the internet and on the streets of Los Angeles before Green Day used it in their concerts. Accordingly, Seltzer controlled the ‘first public appearance’ of his work. This tends to weigh in favor of the fair use of that work.”) (citations omitted); Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corp., 336 F.3d 811, 820 (9th Cir. 2002) (“Published works are more likely to qualify as fair use because the first appearance of the artist’s expression has already occurred.”); Arica Inst. v. Palmer, 970 F.2d 1067, 1078 (2d Cir. 1992) (plaintiff’s work was “a published work available to the general public,” and the second factor thus favored the defendant); see also National Center for Jewish Film v. Riverside Films LLC, 2012 WL 4052111 (C.D. Cal. 2012) (finding that factor two “slightly” favored fair use because copied films were old and had been available for a long time).

 Yet, to play devil’s advocate here, some of those who have come out in support of the fan film guideline argue that some of the current fan productions, because of their substantial similarities with the original texts, because of their improved technical polish, do run the risk of confusing consumers and damaging the market for commercial produced films.

Confusion isn’t really part of the copyright infringement test; I definitely agree that fan films should be clearly unofficial, but technical polish in itself doesn’t signal official production, especially in this day and age. And fans are generally practiced in distinguishing fanworks from official works—if you label something an “unofficial fan film,” confusion is unlikely. As for damaging the market, that’s the explicit concern of the last factor of the fair use test. The key question for factor four is whether the accused work substitutes for part of the copyright owner’s legitimate market. See, e.g., Authors’ Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust, 755 F.3d 87, 99 (2d Cir. 2014) (“any economic ‘harm’ caused by transformative uses does not count because such uses, by definition, do not serve as substitutes for the original work”) To weigh in favor of a copyright owner, the fourth factor requires a “meaningful or significant effect” on the market for the copyright owner’s work via substitution. Authors Guild v. Google, 804 F.3d 202, 224 (2d Cir. 2015).

Thus, though I do believe that fanworks help sustain the franchise, that isn’t even required for fair use—if a work is transformative and otherwise fair, it’s ok if it harms the market for the original (for example, by convincing people that the original is dumb), as long as that harm doesn’t come by means of substituting for the original.

Many of the cases which the Organization for Transformative Works has dealt with are self-consciously transformational: fan fiction or fan videos are produced in part with the goal of critiquing or rewriting aspects of the original to more fully satisfy the interests of those fans, who, as I’ve noted, are often surplus viewers in the minds of the producers, that is, outside what they initially imagined their market to be. Yet, many of the fan films are affirmational (in that they see themselves more closely aligned with the themes of the series) and aspirational (in that they are often produced with the goal of breaking into the media industry). The standards there often encourage more fidelity to the original story, characters, and worlds as a display of mastery over the program content. They also stress technical mastery as the producers seek to duplicate the original special effects, settings, costumes, and performances. The goal is often to produce something that would “pass” as a Star Trek episode. So, without judging what would or would not be protected, which as has been noted would ultimately be up to the courts to decide, is it worth asking what would constitute the minimum degree of transformation necessary to be protected? Does it matter whether or not the creator of the work meant for the film to be transformative? Does the effort to match the original ultimately undermine some claims to be transformative?

 You ask, “is it worth asking what would constitute the minimum degree of transformation necessary to be protected?” Now I have to give the annoying law professor answer: Definitely worth asking, but not easy to answer. The courts have looked for new meaning or message. That’s easier to find when the new meaning is in some way critical of the original, or even when it’s orthogonal to the original. For the latter, I’m thinking of the great Information Society song What’s On Your Mind and its McCoy/Spock quotes. It may not really comment on the original, but it’s also doing something so different that its meaning/message is very far from that of Star Trek. The very odd IRS training film might also fall into this category.

You ask, “Does it matter whether or not the creator of the work meant for the film to be transformative?” The influential Second Circuit Court of Appeals has said that the answer to this question is no. Richard Prince, provocateur/appropriation artist, copied some photographs and was sued; in his deposition, he denied any intent at all, much less transformative intent. Probably he considered his statements part of his art. The court of appeals said that his work was still transformative because of the way that people reacted to it.

Finally, you ask, “Does the effort to match the original ultimately undermine some claims to be transformative?” Yes, though it would depend very much on what exactly was going on—filming David Gerrold’s original script for Blood and Fire with its overt homosexuality (which was, not for nothing, more overt than the nod to Sulu’s family life in the reboot) to show the contrast between what was and wasn’t acceptable to network TV at the relevant time would probably still be transformative, even if it was otherwise highly faithful in terms of character, setting, etc. That faithfulness might well highlight just how different—or not different—a Star Trek that was more diverse would have been. I would say that transformativeness in plot/character is probably the most important thing. While lack of fidelity in costumes, sets, etc. could be an important signal that a production isn’t going to compete with the market for the original (the other highly important fair use factor), fidelity in those elements probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as transformativeness in what actually happens on the set.

We’ve already discussed the fact that courts do not always make clear distinctions between commercial competitors and fannish labors of love. Yet, there’s a street sense that companies should have the right to protect themselves from unlicensed commercial products that seek to profit from their intellectual properties. Again, to play devil’s advocate, one defense of the new fan guidelines is that they seek to provide insight into what distinctions Paramount and CBS are making between amateur and commercial productions. If the law does not make such distinctions, it would seem that in this case, Paramount and CBS are trying to map some of its own.

You talk about the fan guidelines as indicating what distinctions Paramount/CBS make, even if the courts aren’t clear on what constitutes commerciality. I agree that the guidelines are helpful on what they won’t object to in terms of finances. But they’re very vague on what you can actually have in terms of plot/character, which means that people who want to be sure they’re within the guidelines are likely to end up making pretty anodyne fan films. (The restrictions on involvement of people who’ve worked on official Star Trek seems to me to be needless, and also overreaching in terms of the deals struck with those people—if Paramount/CBS wanted them to refuse such involvement, there was plenty of opportunity to put a specific noncompetition clause in their contracts.)

If Paramount/CBS want to say they’re not objecting to fan films at a certain level of investment, that would make sense to me, but content guidelines beyond “be very clear that this isn’t official,” like rule #2, really limit the usefulness of the guidelines for people who want to experiment. Content must be “family friendly and suitable for public presentation,” and must not include “offensive, fraudulent, … disparaging [does disparaging Ferengi count, especially given the ethnic analogies some critics have made?], … threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content.” How certain could anyone be that their script didn’t have any of that in it, especially if it had an actual conflict in it? Is there a single ST:TOS episode that couldn’t be dinged for having some un-family friendly, offensive or inappropriate content by someone who just didn’t like it? I know that I have to explain a lot about sexual mores of the 1960s to my kids when we watch ST:TOS. And the ban on depictions of drugs and alcohol is, in some ways, as funny as it is sad. What are we going to do with McCoy and Scotty, and all those pleasure planets? Or maybe it’s just a way to keep fan films out of character …

Another easy improvement to the guidelines would be to do what the Creative Commons license does: the CC license allows various uses without further contact with the copyright owner, and then the license also makes clear that fair use exists and that the license does not try to limit what you can do under fair use. Clear recognition by Paramount/CBS that fair use exists and that they don’t want to crush it would be one key element of a fair balance.

Rebecca Tushnet is a professor of law at Georgetown. Her work focuses on copyright, trademark, and false advertising law.  She previously clerked for Associate Justice David Souter and worked in private practice.  Her publications include “Worth a Thousand Words: The Images of Copyright Law” (Harvard L. Rev.); “Running the Gamut from A to B: Federal Trademark and False Advertising Law” (U. Penn. L. Rev.); and “Copy This Essay: How Fair Use Doctrine Harms Free Speech and How Copying Serves It” (Yale L.J.).  She helped found the Organization for Transformative Works, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and promoting fanworks.

 

What Fans Need to Know about Transformative Use: A Conversation with Rebecca Tushnet (Part One)

Seeking more insights into the legal implications of the Star Trek fan film guidelines, I sought out  Georgetown Law Professor Rebecca Tushnet, who has extensively studied the legal implications of fan culture. The following is edited down from a larger exchange.

I’m a professor of law at Georgetown and a fan of Star Trek since I first saw reruns in the late 1970s, as a child. My first experience of organized fandom came from reading Star Trek Lives! by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak and Joan Winston, and my first fan fiction was from a Star Trek zine. My fandom drove me, in law school, to start researching whether fan fiction was legal—diverting me from what I expected to be a career in reproductive rights to a very different kind of reproduction-with-a-difference. I helped found the Organization for Transformative Works, and still serve on its legal committee. You can read the OTW’s post about the new Star Trek fan film guidelines, which points out that Paramount/CBS don’t have the right to bar fair uses; I’m going to offer some more general thoughts about the current legal status of transformative works.

Under U.S. law, whether a fanwork is fair use depends on four factors—(1) the purpose of the use, (2) the nature of the original work, (3) the amount of the original work used, and (4) the effect of the use on the market for the original or its licensed derivatives. Factor (1), the purpose of the use, is often the most important. The more new meaning and message is in the new work, the more “transformative” it is likely to be, and fair use favors transformative uses. Factor (1) also considers whether the use is commercial. Unfortunately for fan filmmakers, courts have had very little occasion to consider what “commercial” means here. It really shouldn’t mean that the creators paid for the inputs to their works, such as the sets or actors; courts haven’t in the past found works commercial because creators paid for the paper on which they were printed or the computers on which they were composed. However, the status of things such as Kickstarter campaigns, or the idea that covering production costs but seeking no profit might be acceptable, are simply untested in the courts. Fan films are clearly not “commercial” in the sense of being ads for separate products, but copyright law has historically had a far more expansive idea of what’s “commercial” than just ads. Thus, where there are Kickstarter campaigns or the like, transformativeness is likely to play a vital role in determining fair use: the more “commercial” a fanwork is, the more transformative and even critical it is likely to need to be.

 

Factors (2) and (3) turn out to be unimportant in most cases of transformative use. Nature of the original work: Although the Star Trek works are fictional (rather than factual, like an encyclopedia) and thus get “thicker” copyright protection than highly factual works, transformative uses are usually about fictional works, so that isn’t usually important. The Star Trek works have also been published for a very long time, and have had many chances to earn a return already, which can favor a finding of fair use. Amount used: The more of the original is used, the more likely it is to be nontransformative; conversely, transformative uses are likely to need only parts of the original in order to launch their new meanings or messages. Again, courts don’t have a lot of experience figuring out how “much” of a fictional universe has been copied; they are likely to ask whether the amount taken in a fanwork is reasonable in light of the fanwork’s purpose.

 

Factor (4), the effect of the use on the market, has tricky interactions with factor (1). Courts have said that transformative uses are unlikely to affect markets in which the copyright owner has legitimate rights. (The copyright owner can’t create an effect on the market by saying “I am willing to license critical commentary, parodies, or other transformative uses as long as you pay me, and therefore your transformative use still harms me financially.”) So, in transformative use cases, the result on factor (4) often depends on the result in factor (1). But courts might also ask questions like: is this fanwork likely to substitute for purchases of authorized works? If this fanwork is more an extension of the Star Trek universe than a critical reflection on some component of it, such as IDIC or the portrayal of Klingons or sexuality (especially in ST:TOS), then is it enough like something that Paramount/CBS would authorize that copyright law should give them rights over this type of work?

 

A generation of experience shows that Star Trek fanworks promote the market for the original, and even sustained the franchise through many dry years and perhaps ill-advised versions. Thus, the “substitution” argument hasn’t been supported by actual experience. But the more normative question—is this just the kind of thing that the copyright owner should be able to control, even if it’s not costing the copyright owner money?—remains very much a live issue.

Even some fan filmmakers and fan advocates have argued that Axanar went too far both in terms of its use of original copyrighted materials and in terms of business practices, which raised massive amounts of money, without real evidence of accountability or signs of progress towards a completed production. Some of us worry that if the Axanar case had moved forward, it would have been a very bad test case for defining the limits of fair use protections of fan culture. Would some of the commercial dimensions of this project have undercut some of its claims to constitute transformative use of copyrighted materials? Many fan projects are clearly labors of love, with little or no chance of making any return on the energies and resources invested in their production. It is hard to describe Axanar in those terms, given that the producers clearly see the film as paving the way for new models of commercial film production, and this is why the case created such a crisis in terms of how the studios think about the amateur status of fan filmmaking.

 I should start by foregrounding something that law students often find quite frustrating: For many legal questions, the absolute best answer is, “It depends.” Many fair use questions are easy. Some are not. I haven’t reviewed the Axanar script; I have no opinions about how transformative it is. If it is highly transformative, it is likely to be a fair use no matter how commercial it is. Unsurprisingly, most of the litigated fair use cases—including many significant victories—involve for-profit uses, because those are the defendants who are more likely to be able to afford a defense. However, questions about commerciality are difficult, and the law doesn’t necessarily have the right categories for what people do today.

If people are paying for copies of/access to the challenged use, then I would expect any court to find the use to be commercial, regardless of whether the recipient started a new company with the income, put it in the bank, or set the cash on fire. One problem created by new forms of creator-audience interaction online is that, when we’re not talking about a money-for-copies transaction, binary labels don’t work as well. I personally think Kickstarter campaigns are on the commercial side of the commercial/noncommercial spectrum, but unfortunately very few fair use cases recognize that it is a spectrum.

By contrast, nonlegal discourse is much more able to accommodate the idea of being noncommercial-ish, enough to favor fairness.   Many people are likely to think that fan websites that run Google Ads to offset hosting costs are very different from Axanar, and I agree that there are important differences. But copyright plaintiffs don’t think so: they think that ad-supported sites are exactly as “commercial” for purposes of disfavoring fair use as direct sales of books. “Offseting hosting costs” does mean “getting money,” and that’s pretty much what most courts have interpreted “commercial” to mean—it certainly doesn’t require turning a profit. Even Creative Commons has faced this difficulty—it turns out that people who use its “noncommercial” license have a wide range of opinions on what counts as noncommercial, although this divergence has generated few actual disputes.

All this variation is part of why I generally say that noncommerciality heavily favors fair use, while commerciality means that other factors, like transformativeness, will be more important.   Compare Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, 464 U.S. 417, 449 (1984) (a presumption of fair use “is appropriate here … because the District Court’s findings plainly establish that time-shifting for private home use must be characterized as a noncommercial, nonprofit activity.”), with Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 584 (1994) (“If, indeed, commerciality carried presumptive force against a finding of fairness, the presumption would swallow nearly all of the illustrative uses listed in the preamble paragraph of § 107, including news reporting, comment, criticism, teaching, scholarship, and research, since these activities ‘are generally conducted for profit in this country.’ Congress could not have intended such a rule ….’”) (citation omitted).

Rebecca Tushnet is a professor of law at Georgetown. Her work focuses on copyright, trademark, and false advertising law.  She previously clerked for Associate Justice David Souter and worked in private practice.  Her publications include “Worth a Thousand Words: The Images of Copyright Law” (Harvard L. Rev.); “Running the Gamut from A to B: Federal Trademark and False Advertising Law” (U. Penn. L. Rev.); and “Copy This Essay: How Fair Use Doctrine Harms Free Speech and How Copying Serves It” (Yale L.J.).  She helped found the Organization for Transformative Works, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and promoting fanworks.

 

How the New Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines May Change Fandom

The following post was commissioned by a leading website in Star Trek fandom in July, but because it was never used, I’ve decided to pass it along to the readers of my blog to spark discussion around developments that have the potential to dramatically impact media fandom. My own post will be followed on subsequent days by a conversation with Rebecca Tushnet, a Georgetown law professor who has become one of the leading thinkers about fan cultural production and transformative use of copyrighted materials.

 

Thanks to Arija Liepkalnietis for producing a Latvian translation of this blog post.

This summer, just a few months before the science fiction series would celebrate its 50th anniversary of production, Paramount and CBS collectively issued a series of guidelines for Star Trek fan filmmakers, seeking to clarify where they might draw the line between fan creativity and copyright infringement and suggesting what distinctions they might make between amateur and professional work in the Star Trek universe. They begin their document by proclaiming themselves “big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity, and in particular, want amateur fan filmmakers to showcase their passion for Star Trek.”

The issuing of these guidelines for “avoiding objections” was motivated primarily by the corporations’ ongoing legal battles with the producers of one particular fan film — Star Trek: Axanar, which had been the subject of extensive coverage for months. Star Trek: Axanar represented the culmination of trends shaping the relations between fans and producers in recent years. Axanar brought to the breaking point trends that sooner or later would have resulted in backlash from commercial rights holders. Technical advances have placed greater production capacities in the hands of everyday people, including the ability to generate digital special effects approaching industry standards. Digital distribution brought all forms of fan productions greater public visibility. Crowdfunding has allowed fans to back productions that matter to them, but in this case, that resulted here in massive amounts of money entering the system and some questionable business practices that even many other fan filmmakers found exploitative.

Let’s stipulate that CBS and Paramount have legitimate reasons to protect a top media franchise from being appropriated for commercial purposes, and we can understand why the studios felt a need to clarify where they might draw the line. That said, the new guidelines for Star Trek fan films also over-reach, going beyond what was needed to resolve ambiguities, doing damage to the fan community’s good will, and potentially violating the public’s fair use rights. While the producers insist that these guidelines apply only to fan films, they could have a chilling effect on all forms of grassroots fan culture and are apt to be mimicked by other franchise producers.

Keep in mind that fan works emerge from a place of appreciation in two senses — they are created from a love of the original materials and they may actually increase their value in three distinct ways:

1, Fan films represent particularly active “engagement”. As I documented in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, the media industry has learned to value fan engagment as a social currency at a moment of increased media options and declining consumer commitment. Fans are the most loyal audience segment, they are more likely to recognize and reward sponsors, they are most apt to watch regularly watch, they are most apt to search out new and additional content, and they are most likely to promote the series to their social network. One of the first series to embrace the value of audience engagement, Star Trek’s producers have rallied their fans at crucial points in the franchise’s history, as when Gene Roddenberry worked with fans to launch the first letter writing campaign to keep the series on the air. In that sense, Star Trek was ahead of the curve in thinking about the value of audience engagement.

2 Fan films can be understood as a site of innovation. USC’s Robert Kozinets has researched the Star Trek fan film community from a marketing perspective, drawing comparison to what MIT’s Eric Von Hippel has identified as the value of “lead users” in the manufacturing sector. Lead users are early adopters who also need to adapt the product to satisfy their own particular needs; lead users innovate in ways that are low risk for the original producer but may provide a wealth of insights about market demand. At a time when Star Trek has largely been out of production, fan films have been one of many ways to keep the franchise alive (even if they reach relatively small audiences). Allowing multiple low-cost and low-risk experiments, fan films modeled multiple strategies for how to make a Star Trek series in the 21st century. And fan filmmakers, much like other lead users, may be recruited by the company, bringing their insights about different genre strategies and audience interests with them. Historically, most professional science fiction writers, editors, artists, etc. got their start within fandom and both Doctor Who and Star Wars have raided fandom aggressively seeking new talent as they rebooted their franchises. These are among the reasons why CBS and Paramount have offered a high degree of latitude to fan filmmakers in recent years, including collaborations and cooperations between cast members, technical and writing staff, and amateur producers.

None of us want to return to the early days of the web when Hollywood threatened to sue their most dedicated fans. This earlier period was especially marked by over-reach as studios claimed much more extensive rights over any and all use of their materials than they were granted within current law and fans often felt powerless to confront corporate attorneys with many more resources than they had. Over time, the creative industry came to see fan productions (again not just fan films) as creating more value than doing damage.

3 Fan cultural productions represent transformative works. Without getting too deep into the legal weeds, U.S. copyright law balances the rights of authors to profit from their creative output and the rights of the public to benefit from their fair use of those materials in order to inspire other creative production. Despite the metaphor of intellectual property, culture can not be reduced to property nor exclusively controlled by a single group or individual. Rather, cultural producers always build upon what has come before. In a world where mass culture has such a dominant role, the public has a strong interest in being able to engage with, comment upon, reference, critique and reimagine commercially produced materials.

American University’s Peter Jaszi and Patricia Aufderheide worked with a team of the country’s top legal scholars to develop some guidelines which DIY media producers can use for determining whether their remixing practices might be legally protected. They concluded that many fan productions do fall under fair use because they are transformative—they do not substitute for the original market, or simply copy, or duplicate the original. , Rather, fan films take that original material and do something different with it, including “parody, satire, criticism, commentary, admiration, celebration, mourning, etc.” In the case of Star Trek fan films, critical commentary includes advocacy for alternative perspectives (such as Hidden Frontier’s strong focus on GLBT characters given the contentious history of Star Trek’s representations of sexuality, or, for that matter, the ways Michael Dorn and other cast-members worked with the producers of Renegades to advocate for a stronger role in the future of the franchise).

The Organization for Transformative Works, a fan advocacy group, made the case to the U.S. Copyright Office, which is asked to oversee copyright policy, that fan vids (which re-edit footage from the original set to music for the purposes of promoting their interpretations of the material) should be recognized as Transformative Use; they argued that fan vidders should be exempt, alongside, for example, documentary producers or media educators, from being charged with violating the law by removing DVD copy protection software in the pursuit of their work. And the U.S. Copyright office agreed, a decision that many think indicates how courts would be apt to rule in a similar case (though, to date, there is no case law which specifically addresses the legality of fan cultural production).

Fan Vids are an interesting test case, since on the one hand, they do edit and remix existing footage (unlike most Star Trek fan films) and on the other, they often make more overt critical commentary. The prevailing ethos amongst Star Trek fan filmmakers has been focused on fan mastery as demonstrated by improving technical qualities and strong fidelity to the source material, which brings these films closer to being “derivative works” subject to greater legal restrictions. In short, the more fan films are made as calling cards for the industry, the more they undercut the case for their amateur status. And the more fan films look like “continuing adventures” rather than alternative perspectives, the harder it may be to make the case for transformative use.

So, this brings us back, at long last, to the recently released guidelines for Star Trek fan films. As the Organization for Transformative Works has argued, “all the guidelines really signal is what Paramount and CBS would prefer from fan films—not what the law would allow.” They offer fan filmmakers no protection nor do they indicate how courts might rule on individual cases. Yet they do signal what fan practices CBS and Paramount are apt to tolerate. While the guidelines begin with statements sympathetic to fan culture, they systematically reign in all forms of fan filmmaking, not simply those projects like Axanar that arguably which bleed over into the commercial sphere. Thankfully CBS and Paramount are “grandfathering” in existing fan films, because almost none of them could have been produced under these guidelines.

Some of the guidelines seem reasonable, such as a call to be even more explicit in distinguishing fan films from the official property. Fan filmmakers have historically been conscientious in signaling their unauthorized status; fans often make strong distinctions between canon (official texts) and fanon (grassroots responses). Everyone will be well served by lowering the ambiguity about what the rights holders see as commercial uses of their materials. We can debate what is or is not a reasonable policy towards the crowdfunding of production costs.

But many other provisions are apt to have a chilling effect on all forms of fan production or will if fan artists read them as superseding fair use protections. For example, a provision against the use of clips seemingly targets fanvids and restrictions on the use of recreated costumes and props have implications for the maker culture and cosplay communities. The guidelines block the collaborations between professionals and amateurs that have been a hallmark of earlier Star Trek fan films, there are restrictions on how fan films can be distributed (streaming rather than DVD) that have implications for how these materials will be archived. There are new format restrictions that mean that fans can no longer produce continuing series. Constraints on the film’s content designed to keep Star Trek “family friendly” amount to censorship over many forms of critical commentary (slash for example) that would fall squarely under transformative use.

If copyright law rests on a balancing of interests, we can all agree that current factors are out of whack. From the perspective of the rights holders, we are dealing here with a crisis in copyright as it becomes hard to distinguish amateur and commercial productions. As amateur works are reaching wider and wider audiences and impact public perceptions of their franchises, the studios may perceive them as commercial competitors. From the perspective of the public, we are dealing with there is a crisis in fair use, since forms of cultural expression commonplace in the past are now endangered by a legal culture that puts many advantages in the hands of media corporations.   Under these circumstances, copyright enforcement can and does sometimes constitute a form of censorship. For a while, informal policies have created a space where Star Trek’s producers and fans could play and work together, producing films intended to pay tribute to the original, that are and valuable as forms of engagement, innovation, and transformative use. My fear is that the new guidelines back away from those collaborative practices and towards policies more antagonistic to fan participation and expression. As such, the guidelines can have a chilling effect on forms of cultural production that are a uniquely valuable aspect of contemporary culture.

To Learn More:

Henry Jenkins, “Fan Fiction as Critical Commentary” http://henryjenkins.org/2006/09/fan_fiction_as_critical_commen.html

Henry Jenkins, “Quentin Tarentino’s Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture” http://web.mit.edu/21fms/People/henry3/starwars.html

Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, “Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyright Materials in User-Generated Video” http://archive.cmsimpact.org/sites/default/files/CSM_Recut_Reframe_Recycle_report.pdf

“OTW Secures DMCA Exemption from U.S. Copyright Office,” http://www.transformativeworks.org/otw-secures-dmca-exemption-us-copyright-office/

“OTW Legal on Paramount/CBS Fan Film ‘Guidelines’” http://www.transformativeworks.org/otw-legal-on-paramountcbs-fan-film-guidelines/

“Fan Fiction vs. Copyright — A Q & A with Rebecca Tushnet” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g4c57qf_9Q

Kozinets, Robert V. (2007), “Inno-tribes: Star Trek as Wikimedia” in Consumer Tribes, Bernard Cova, Robert V. Kozinets, and Avi Shankar, eds., Oxford and Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 194-211.

Erin Riley, “Fan Favorites,” Strategy + Business, http://www.strategy-business.com/article/Fan-Favorites?gko=f977d

Paula Dupont, “Fanworks, Transformative Fandom, and Copyright,” https://medium.com/@heypaula/fanworks-transformative-fandom-and-copyright-9a78142020fd#.pswf3gkou

Connected Youth and Digital Futures: The Conversation Continues

As part of the launch of our new book, By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism (which I co-authored with Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman), I’ve found myself engaged in several conversations with Sonia Livingstone and Julian Sefton Green. They are both faculty at the London School of Economics and co-authors of a new book, The Class: Living and Learning in a Digital Age, which might be described as our sister project.

Both By Any Media Necessary and The Class are the launch titles of a new New York University Press book series, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, and focused around the ideas that emerged from their Connected Learning and Youth and Participatory Politics research networks. I ran an online exchange with Livingstone and Green on this blog in the spring (Part One; Part Two).

In June, I traveled to London to participate in a launch event for the series, moderated by Nick Couldry, and featuring myself, Livingstone, and Green, in conversation about our respective projects. I was especially pleased by some of the insights that emerged as we talk across the two books, looking at the ways that school culture does or does not encourage young people to find their voices as citizens and what alternative infrastructures surfaced in our interviews with more than 200 young activists.

Thanks to the technical support team at LSE for capturing and sharing with us a video of the event.

Thanks to all of the smart people who attended and asked questions, either in public or private, that helped push my own thinking.

And above all, thanks to Sonia, Julian, and Nick for their hospitality during my stay.

Asian-American Media Activism and Cultural Citizenship: An Interview with Lori Kido Lopez (Part Two)

Some have argued that Asian-Americans might gain greater clout in the industry through demonstrating their buying power and by focusing collective attention via social media on companies that seem eager to court their community. What does your research suggest about the value of such interventions?  Where does advocacy as radical critique end and where does such advocacy become simply a tool for consumer demand within an industry structured around neoliberal logics?

 

This is a really important point. I want to recognize the way that Asian American advertising agencies are participating in media activism by doing just this—demonstrating to media industries that Asian Americans have buying power, and that their communities should be courted. I think this work is absolutely vital in contributing to media change, for a number of reasons.


SNL – Asian-American Doll by disnmad

First, as you mention, we have to recognize the neoliberal logics that (unfortunately) govern media industries, and advertising agencies are in the perfect position to speak that language. Their job is to know their own audience intimately—researching their actual demographics, how they identify, their likes/dislikes, what motivates and inspires them. They have the financial support to conduct this kind of research only because corporations want to sell things, but the end result is that advertisers become very socially attuned content producers. When they produce images of Asian Americans, they’re not going to rely on tired stereotypes or guesses about what will seem authentic—they will create images and messages that push representation forward, because they are responsive to actual Asian American audiences. We can see the impact of these agencies every time we turn on the television, because if you look closely, you’ll see that there are a lot more Asian Americans featured in advertisements than other forms of media.

 

Of course this all seems a bit rosy—after all, commercials offer limited space for telling sophisticated stories, and are unabashedly market-driven rather than artistic. But I point this out because I think this kind of “good cop” activism (for instance, working alongside corporations) provides a necessary counterpart to the “bad cop” activism of traditional media advocacy organizations, who often speak loudest when they are criticizing and protesting. Rather than worrying about radical critique becoming totally subsumed by neoliberal logics, it’s important to recognize that varying and even contradictory activist strategies actually depend upon one another for overall success. Each activist strategy contributes a vital piece of the bigger puzzle—speaking to different audiences, accomplishing different tasks, understanding the problem in different ways. Given that the issues facing Asian Americans in the media world are complex and multifaceted, our strategies for engaging with them must be as well, even if that means taking up assimilationist or revisionist politics alongside more radical critiques.

 

Much has been made in recent years of the fact that the top performers on YouTube are more racially diverse than the top stars on network television. How do you explain these developments? What do you see as their significance? How do these YouTube celebrities understand their relationship with the Asian-American community?

 

I think there are a couple of factors that led to Asian Americans becoming so successful on YouTube. First, many Asian Americans are already at the forefront of adopting digital technologies and using them to communicate with one another. I certainly remember the excitement of developing my own profile on the early social networking site AsianAvenue.com in 1997—years before Friendster or Facebook hit the scene. YouTube itself was created by an Asian American. When you couple that with an eagerness and passion for creating stories that couldn’t be found in the mainstream, it seems clear that this platform would appeal to minorities. Now we see that many of the most famous YouTubers are Asian American, such as Kevjumba, Nigahiga, and Michelle Phan.

Unfortunately this has not necessarily meant that any Asian American can flip on his or her webcam and instantly acquire the huge fan bases. On the contrary, it is still exceedingly difficult to become a top performer on YouTube. But I think it’s important to look at the ways that Asian American YouTubers are participating in media activism from their position as powerful celebrities—and it might not be in the ways we would assume! For instance, YouTube celebrities do not often use their platform to talk about their own Asian American identities, the problems facing Asian American communities, or intersectional oppression such as racism, sexism, or homophobia. In fact, many activists have criticized Asian American YouTubers for not participating enough in social change efforts.

 

But I think what YouTubers are doing that is politically important is coming together to create a powerful and durable network of celebrities who can create and mobilize audiences. Rather than looking at YouTube as separate from more traditional media industries, for Asian Americans, it’s important to consider the relationship YouTubers form with mainstream media and independent media celebrities and professionals. They very frequently collaborate on transmedia projects such as blogs, group YouTube channels, live performances, video competitions, and other new forms of storytelling. In linking popular YouTubers to this wider body of performers and media professionals, they are able to mobilize audiences to follow them across these differently mediated spaces and increase the visibility of even more Asian American media. This is a pretty important political accomplishment that stems from their YouTube popularity, but expands to impact the larger goals of Asian American media activism.

 

You end the book by exploring some of the contradictions surrounding fan activism and the “race-bending” movement. Race-bending now seems to have been extended to include a range of fan cultural production, from fan fiction to fan art to “fan casting”, which seeks to advocate for more diverse casting and storytelling within popular media.  What role do you think fan culture can play in re-imagining diversity in popular entertainment?

 

This question brings me back to our early days starting up the Civic Paths research group at USC, which I remember very fondly! We started from the question of how fans were playing a role in activism, and my interest in the activists protesting the racist casting of The Last Airbender provided one of our earliest case studies. It was a great example of fan activism because it showed the way that passionate engagement with a media franchise could transition into a complex and long-term activist undertaking. Fans of the original Last Airbender cartoon were frustrated when the live action movie cast white actors to play roles they had long believed to be Asian. They took it upon themselves to learn all about the racial politics of representation and casting, and then encouraged a boycott of the movie using a lot of the skills they had developed as fans—connecting with digital communities, participating in online debates, creating original artwork and videos, staying current through research and scouring the internet for information.

These specific skills translated well from fandom to activism, but I think that passionate engagement with media franchises is important in bolstering all forms of media activism, not only those surrounding a famously beloved text. All Asian American media activism starts from the foundational belief that media images matter deeply—they shape knowledge about the world, as well as how you see yourself, your community, your culture. Activism is difficult and fraught with failure, so it is only sustainable when it is built from the same kinds of deep passion and frustration that fans feel too.

 

As race continues to be inserted into conversations about media, I do think that passionate and engaged viewers will continue to lead the way in shaping those conversations. This can be dangerous too—we saw with misogynist fans of the Star Wars and Ghostbusters franchises that not all fannish love leads to social progress. As with fans of The Last Airbender, sometimes fandom can promote a kind of essentialism or conservatism that is antithetical to experimentation, reimagining, or transformation. But I’m an optimist—I think the more that Asian Americans get involved with media production, and the more that Asian American audiences are able to find new texts to love and connect with, we’ll eventually be able to shift our media landscape for the better.

Lori Kido Lopez is an Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies in the Communication Arts Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is also affiliate faculty in the Asian American Studies Program and the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  She is the author of Asian American Media Activism: Fighting for Cultural Citizenship and a co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Asian American Media.

Asian-American Media Activism and Cultural Citizenship: An Interview with Lori Kido Lopez (Part One)

I recently announced the line-up of speakers for our Transforming Hollywood 7: Diversifying Entertainment conference to be held at USC on October 21 (You can still register here).

When we were putting together the conference, one of the first people who I considered was Lori Kido Lopez, a young faculty member in the Communication Arts Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a recent graduate from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. Lopez had been an original member of my Civic Paths research group and her work on the race-bending movement which grew up in protest of the white-casting of the feature film based on The Last Airbender was a key influence on our work around fan activism. She entered that project through her interest in the collaboration between these fans and veteran Asian-American media activists who had for decades been struggling with issues of representational diversity and industry inclusion.

When I was asked to serve on her dissertation committee, I came to see her work on fan activism in a much larger context, which included everything from struggles over hateful stereotypes and racist jokes, to the efforts of Asian-Americans to use consumer power to put pressure on the advertising industry, to the emergence of YouTube as a space often more receptive to Asian-American performers. And earlier this year, she published her first book, Asian American Media Activism: Fighting for Cultural Citizenship, which is a first-rate contribution to our understanding of the current and historic struggles around diversity and inclusion in the media.

Unfortunately, Lopez can’t join us for the USC event, having commitments to speak at another conference on the East Coast that same weekend, so I reached out to see if she would be willing to provide me with an interview as part of the lead-up to our conference. We cover a lot of territory in the interview which follows, yet it gives us glimpses into only a few of the richly documented and carefully interpreted case studies that run throughout her book. It is essential reading for anyone who is trying to follow these issues, and there’s no question that the struggles over diversity and inclusion are one of the most powerful forces shaping the entertainment industry right now.

You begin the book with considerations of recent struggles over inclusion and representation within network television, focusing specifically on mixed responses from Asian-American audiences to Fresh Off the Boat and The Mindy Project.  Many in the television industry are watching responses to these programs, and others, such as Master of None, closely to see if they can figure out strategies for more diverse and inclusive programing that may nevertheless attract a “broader” audience. What insights would you like to see television executives take from the debates surrounding these and other recent programs?

 

Some of my biggest goals for this book are to broaden our view of what should be done to improve representation of Asian Americans in the media, and to explain what makes media activism challenging. At this point, Asian Americans are still lagging far behind other minorities in nearly every area. There are no hour-long shows focusing on Asian American communities, Asian Americans are never nominated for acting awards, and movies routinely whitewash Asian leading roles and leave Asian actors the sidekick roles. I watched the movie Pitch Perfect 2 recently and was not surprised at all to see that Asian cultures were the butt of far too many jokes, and the one Asian American character is a soft-spoken weirdo. But listing problems is the easy part—what’s harder is saying what we want the solution to be.

We are currently in a moment when we have more Asian American sitcoms than ever before, more Asian Americans in writers rooms and other production roles, more Asian American talent featured across alternative media platforms. Yet we still hear a lot of complaints and contradictory responses coming from Asian Americans. In this book I reveal the different stakeholders and participants engaged in the project of fixing these problems—including volunteer media activists, regulatory and advisory boards, advertisers, YouTubers, fans, and other online participants. Once we recognize who all is working for this cause, we can start to see why their responses end up differing. That’s a pretty diverse group of people, they’re not going to agree about every little detail!

 

After explicating all of the different forms of media activism currently being undertaken, I would hope that what emerges for television executives is a clarity and sense of urgency about how dire the problem is and how they should be doing all they can to hire more Asian Americans at every level. They should then feel at peace with the fact that all of the media activists identified here will continue to criticize and ask for more, because they are tapping into a vibrant, long-neglected, politically engaged core of viewers who know better than to be satisfied with any one role, episode, or movie focusing on them—the battle will always continue as long as representations continue to be made, because racism persists and is at the heart of media inequalities and injustices. So I would hope that television executives can be sensitive to how complicated this situation is, while certainly affirming that every step they make in advancing the representations of Asian Americans is vitally important and desperately needed.

 

You argue that differences between Asian-American media activists have to do with different models of cultural citizenship. Explain this concept and outline some of the underlying models of cultural citizenship which have shaped debates around these programs.

 

We usually think of citizenship in legal terms, focusing on who is legally recognized as a member of a nation. But the idea of who belongs is also deeply cultural, and “cultural citizenship” is the idea that we also feel more or less like we belong within a nation depending on how we are treated, and how our identities and cultural practices are recognized. Asian Americans often are searching for a sense of belonging in the U.S. because they are always seen as outsiders, even though they were born here or lived here most of their lives. I connect this to media activism, because I think that when we are arguing about what kinds of representations we want to see of Asian Americans, we are really saying that we want the media to play a stronger role in contributing to Asian Americans feeling like they are cultural citizens.

 

But the concept of Asian American cultural citizenship means different things to different communities, and that causes disagreements even among activists. Some think that if we are cultural citizens then we will be treated “just like everyone else,” not seen as different in any way. Others want to be recognized as a powerful group that deserves attention, particularly in terms of being able to wield economic and spending power. Others want to be able to control their own representations and make media on their own terms, no matter what that might look like. These different views on how cultural citizenship should be realized lead to different strategies when it comes to media activism.

 

You make the point in the introduction that a key difference between producers and activist is that activists see representation as a collective issue, whereas most of the mechanisms for thinking about media audiences within the entertainment industry stress individual consumer choices. Can these two perspectives be reconciled? Why or why not?

 

One way that the entertainment industry stresses individual consumer choices is through the idea that we have such a diverse range of media available, every individual can pick and choose a media diet that is particularly suited to their tastes. But at a very basic level, discourses of individualism are at odds with the fight for social justice. We have to be able to think beyond ourselves and our own desires in order to identify those who are being systematically disenfranchised, and do something to rectify that inequality at a broader level. This applies to Asian Americans media activists too—they recognize that there is a widespread problem when it comes to representations of Asian Americans, and that we will have to work together in order to combat it. This often comes in two forms: encouraging media industries to cast more Asian Americans, and encouraging audiences to support works that represent Asian Americans well. If this is all there is, then the focus on individuals could be deployed by convincing individual producers it’s in their best interest to shift their casting practices, and convincing individual viewers it’s in their best interest to support Asian American media.

 

But one of the things that I work to reveal in the book is that there are a lot more ways we can impact change than just those two things, and there are a lot more people involved in media activism than just media producers and media consumers. For instance, we also need to consider the policies that are encouraging or discouraging media industries to shift their practices, the advertising agencies who work with corporations to identify consumer audiences and their needs, the wide array of producer-consumers who participate in the online arena. Once we expand our view of media activism to include these other sites, it becomes even clearer that media activism needs to take place at the level of the collective, rather than the individual. If we focus too much on the individual, we lose sight of the collective politics that have always animated antiracism on the part of Asian Americans.

 

What are some of the factors that led to the earliest forms of Asian-American media advocacy? How do these campaigns relate to the larger history of politics around race and representation in American media, going back to The Birth of a Nation, if not before? To what degree are the issues today the same as they were in the 1970s? What has shifted in terms of the models of change activists deploy to lobby for their cause? What has shifted in the industry’s responses to such campaigns?

 

The history of Asian American media advocacy aligns with the rise of the Asian American identity itself. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, different Asian ethnic communities started coming together to protest the routine discrimination they collectively faced. In an act of self-determination, they called themselves “Asian American” (marking “Oriental” as pejorative) and fought racism alongside Black, Chicano, and Native American activists. Issues of representation were always foundational to the Asian American Movement, in relation to both media and theater. In the 1970s we saw the birth of Asian American cinema, with independent filmmakers collectively documenting stories in Asian American communities and screening them at the very first Asian American film festivals. This was also the time when Asian American actors came together to fight against “yellow face” and gain more roles in plays and movies, to resist harmful stereotypes, and to remove the use of slurs like “chink.”

So we can see that as long as there have been “Asian Americans,” there has been activism surrounding representations and media images. But if we look at the activist strategies deployed in these early days, we can trace a precedent all the way back to the African Americans who protested the racism of Birth of a Nation in 1915. And as you allude to, the general shape of media activism has remained the same since then: activists target the image’s creators, funders, or audiences. Sometimes they can push for legal repercussions. These are the same things that activists do today, largely because the same issues still exist, such as whitewashing, stereotypes, harmful depictions, a failure to hire minorities. But hopefully my book shows the way that even though this exact same form of activism is still around—and plays a vital role in shaping media industries—there are also other forms of media activism available, and we need to recognize those as well.

 

Lori Kido Lopez is an Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies in the Communication Arts Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is also affiliate faculty in the Asian American Studies Program and the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  She is the author of Asian American Media Activism: Fighting for Cultural Citizenship and a co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Asian American Media.

 

In a World Without Star Trek…?

In case you’ve been living under a rock, yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the debut of Star Trek on American television, and as fans used to say back in the day, “Star Trek Lives!” A few weeks ago, I got contacted by Charlie Jane Anders from Wired, who asked me to contribute my thoughts for an article she was writing that asked the question, “What if Star Trek Had Never Existed?” I thought of it as a chance to do some speculative fiction about the alternative history of speculative fiction. Since her article has now appeared, I thought it would be interesting to share my full response with my readers. One always says more to reporters than ends up in the article, but in this case, I got more than a little carried away in true Trekker fashion.

First, I may be one of the few people who has seen multiple episodes of The Lieutenant, the television series which Gene Roddenberry made prior to Star Trek, and this series gives us some clue of what would have happened in his career if he did not produce Star Trek. Roddenberry always claimed that Star Trek was a way to inject serious ideas into network television and reflected his frustrations with what he couldn’t do in a more realistic format. But in fact, The Lieutenant dealt consistently with the social issues of the time in the context of a serviceman drama in a more direct, less allegorical fashion. Roddenberry first worked with several members of the Star Trek cast on this series.Nichelle  Nichols, for example, was the guest star on an episode which dealt with racial discrimination and black frustration, getting more lines in that one episode than she got in Star Trek as a whole, and developing a much more complex character than Uhura.

So, we can imagine a cop series by Roddenberry as continuing along that same line, dealing with some of the controversial topics of his times, in much the same way that slightly later series such as Police Story and The Bold Ones did. I see Roddenberry as someone who took the “ideas” focused television drama of the 1950s anthology series (represented by someone like Rod Serling) and integrated them into genre television formulas at a time when the episodic series was becoming the dominant format on the medium. To me, this suggests that he might have been a significant television author even in the absence of Star Trek, where-as Roddenberry spent the rest of his career trying out other science fiction formats, trying to reinvent Star Trek. As much as I love Trek, it would have been interesting to see what Roddenberry was able to do in other genres.

Think about the state of science fiction as a genre in the 1960s. You are right that the Space Race was intensifying across this period, and there was a growing interest in science and technology, which would have been expressed via popular culture one way or another. Without Trek, these impulses were entering television in three ways. First, through the fantastic sitcoms — ranging from the justly obscure It’s About Time to the ever-rerun I Dream of Jeannie (both of which have astronaut protagonists) and extending out to things like The Munsters, The Adams Family, My Mother the Car, My Favorite Martian, etc. Second, through the Irwin Allen series — which were also campy and spectacle-focused rather than ideas-focused: Lost in Space but also Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. And third, through anthology based series, such as Outer Limits and later Night Gallery, both of which are off-shoots of the ground-breaking Twilight Zone. None of these take us where Star Trek took science fiction on television — adventures involving recurring characters which take us to new worlds that become vehicles for asking core questions about the nature of humanity.

We might also think about what science fiction in literature was during this period. Painting with broad strokes, the decade saw the emergence of social science fiction as a dominant subgenre (moving away from hard SF’s focus on technological change) and with this shift, we are seeing a large number of works by feminist science fiction writers like Joanna Russ and Ursula LeGuin. More women are pouring into Science Fiction fandom which is why Star Trek fandom drew so many women in its foundational years (more on this in a moment). Part of what drew them was the social focus of many of the best Star Trek episodes, including recurring interests in accepting difference and some half-hearted representations of women in professional roles.

A second major trend in science fiction is represented by Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology — a generation of writers experimenting with the language of science fiction in highly reflexive ways, pushing for more literary respectability, and often exploring themes of alien sexuality. If we look at the science fiction writers Gene Roddenberry drew upon to write Star Trek, many of them come from this second group, including Ellison himself (“City on the Edge of Forever”) but also Theodore Sturgeon (“Amok Time,” “Shore Leave”) and Norman Spinrad (“The Doomsday Machine “). So part of what Trek did was bring these developments in SF literature onto television and it is not clear which other producer of that period would have been able to bridge between these realms. Part of what made this work, though, was Roddenberry was also keeping the peace with older SF conventions — especially a kind of technological utopianism, where improvements in communication, transportation, and manufacturing technologies have helped to resolve many of Earth’s current problems. We can think about the communicator, the transporter, and the Replicator as magic devices which embody the possibility of technological enhancement as overcoming scarcity.

The 1960s is a more fertile period for science fiction in the cinema than many people recall, suggesting that we would have gotten to Star Wars and the improvements of special effects one way or another. But the trend there was towards a darker vision of the future, one which sees Earth’s problems as deepening rather than being resolved through technological change. Some touchpoints here would include Panic in Year Zero, The Last Man on Earth, Crack in the World, Fairenheit 451, Fantastic Voyage, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Marooned, and especially The Planet of the Apes franchise. Extend this list just a few more years into the 1970s and you get The Adromeda Strain, A Clockwork Orange, The Omega Man, THX 1138, Silent Running, Soylent Green, and West World. Of these, Planet of the Apes was the most commercially successful and one that has only recently been relaunched to some critical or commercial success.

So, what if Planet of the Apes would have been the template for future SF rather than Star Trek? It would have been a bit goofy and larger-than-life though much less campy than Lost in Space at its worst Carrot people moments; it would still have dealt with core social issues, including racism and nuclear war, in an allegorical manner; it would have been a darker vision of what humans had become (including apocalyptic destruction) rather than the promise of a better world that Star Trek offered us. It seems a bit more far fetched but what if 2001: A Space Odyssey had become the template — we might have ended up with something closer to Space: 1999, which was television’s attempt to duplicate Kubrick’s critical success without his artistic vision. It is cold, lifeless, and ponderous.

A final line of thought. Star Trek proved to be a watershed event in the development of modern fandom. Star Trek was the first media property to get a critical mass of fans, and thus, became the platform around which fan fiction and fan vidding developed. Star Trek drew in significant number of female fans who developed a distinctively different relationship to the genre than could be found in male-centered literary SF fandom. A particular set of ideas about gender and sexuality emerge there which were shaped both by feminist SF and Roddenberry’s particular mix of genre elements and social causes. Roddenberry worked closely with those fans from the start — previewing the pilot at World-Con and collaborating with them to develop the letter writing campaign that helped promote the visibility of the series and keep it on the air. In many ways, we can see this as the very start of the media industry’s current fascination with “fan engagement.” So, for both fans and producers, Star Trek shaped what fandom looks like. The other series which generate this intense fan following during the late 1960s was Man From UNCLE. What would San Diego Comic-Con look like today if it had been organized around spies, cops, and detectives, as opposed to space operas and super-heroes? That really would have been an alternative universe.

Would most of these trends have developed one way or another? Sure, I don’t think one series determines the evolution of popular media, but we would have a branching effect. Science fiction emerges as a popular genre, but perhaps with a different mix of genre elements, perhaps with a more pessimistic world view or a more campy tone, perhaps with a less active and creative fan community.