I Read A Book – Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Branding in the Social Media Age


statusupdateby Keidra Chaney

Alice E. Marwick’s Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Branding in the Social Media Age (Yale University Press) is at once a cultural history, an ethnographic observation, and a scathing critique of Silicon Valley’s post-Facebook startup scene and the culture of what we now call the social web (what we used to call Web 2.0). Marwick embedded herself in the Silicon Valley tech scene from 2007 – 2009, the heady years where social media came of age as a cultural force and an industry – such that it is. Marwick, a professor at Fordham University that studies online culture, of followed and observed industry professionals and tech journalism at events like South by Southwest Interactive (before it became a brand circus), at parties sponsored by online publications like Mashable and Techcrunch, and at Silicon Valley co-working spaces where startup employees gathered.

She also followed the industry scene as it was documented on Twitter, at the time where the industry back-channel was starting to gain momentum. Her findings are at once illuminating and cringingly familiar for me, as my own career social media began at roughly the same time in Chicago. Marwick’s observations clearly paint a picture of the heady and genuine excitement of the time, before the industry was oversaturated with people and cynicism, when communities were formed, ideas were shared and people were collectively attempting to make sense of the potential use of these network platforms. At the same time, Marwick is unsparing in her critique of the narcissism and superficiality of this brand-obsessed industry.

Many of Marwick’s critiques of social media and tech culture aren’t really particluarly new: she points out the erasure of online privacy and the eroding divide between personal and professional online identity, the emotional currency (and cost) of developing curated, commercialized public self: the pressure to construct a social media persona under the guise of “authenticity”; the fetishization of “meritocracy” in a persistantly homogenous work culture. What makes the book an interesting read is the interviews and anecdotal observations of many of the current (and past) major players in the scene. For example, tech journalist Sarah Lacy, before she started PandoDaily, talking about her personal brand:

“For me, this is my entire life and I am fine with it being my entire life. I don’t have any balance and there are very few people who are willing to do that.” says Lacy about her job. Of course, reading this in 2014 we now see “passion” and the willing convergence of personal and professional life is practically required of those who work in most digital fields, particularly at startups.

Reading Marwick’s observations is like reading a roadmap to online culture of today. While in 2014, critics bemoan the age of “toxic Twitter wars”, 2005 was the age of the “anti-fan” where online communities were formed around the collective activity of expressing hatred for social media “micro-celebrities” like Julia Alison (remember her?) Absolutely nothing is new, even in the microscopic history of social media.

For me, the most interesting and useful chapter of Status Update is the first one; “A Cultural History of Web 2.0,” which describes the dovetailing and sometimes clashing forces that developed the social media culture many of us currently participate in: the utopian, entreprenurial ethos of hacker and open source culture, the personal expression and subversive nature of 90′s print zine culture and early blogs/message boards and the anti-corporate, activist tone of late 90′s – early 2000′s Indymedia culture. As someone who participated in both the indie print scene and blogged since 1999, I’ve observed the connections and similarities between these scenes but never went to the trouble of articulating them; Marwick does a clear, lucid job of bringing together these parallel cultural histories, it’s the jumping off point to a much more detailed historical documentation.

Summary: Status Update succeeds as an critique of the audience-centered focus of social media culture (particularly within the tech industry) but is even more intriguing as a cultural history of Web 2.0 online culture and its offline influences.

Fanfic or Canon?


by Raizel Liebler

One of the earliest papers on fandom Keidra and I ever presented (at MIT’s Media in Transition 5) was about the difficulties in determining the line between canon and fandom.*

“Canon,” from a pop culture standpoint, is defined as the official storylines and back stories invented by the creators of television shows, movies, and books. “Fanon” is the ideas and concepts that fan communities have collectively decided are part of an accepted storyline or character interpretation.

JazmineBut of course, the line between these two concepts is frequently unclear. Who decides what is really canon? Even when it is produced by the original author? The Star Wars Christmas Special is one example — and as a Star Wars fan at the time I saw it, it was hard to believe that George Lucas had anything to do with it; on the other hand, it did introduce Boba Fett.

Is the original author/creator write fanfiction/fanworks based on their original work  — canon? fanon? both? neither?

Thanks to licensing fanfiction through Amazon Kindle Worlds we have at least one example to figure this out — the original author of The Vampire Diaries is now writing licensed fanfiction of her earlier works. LJ Smith never owned the copyright to her earlier works, instead she wrote contractually, either as a work-for-hire employee of the copyright owner — or piecemeal paid for each book produced. (Keidra has previously written on TLF about Kindle Worlds — Fanfiction For Sale: Could Kindle Worlds keep dormant fandoms alive?)

But we collectively have homage for authors for their creation — look to the ways that the comics creators of many of the most popular superhero characters are viewed by the public as in the right in lawsuits to retain rights or profits in their creations. Those creative forces are seen by the public as the “real” owners of those characters — not their actual corporate owners.

KindleWordsTherefore, it is likely that these technically fanfic works will be seen by the reading public as more authoritative than the official, but not written by Smith books. But even that line isn’t clear, considering that there are official Smith written books that are considered to have quality issues:

the L.J. Smith-authored The Return: Nightfall, [was] perhaps the oddest 608 pages ever marketed to young girls, even giving the nutso Twilight: Breaking Dawn .. storyline a run for its money.

But the issue of “what counts” and what doesn’t will continue to occur. And who decides what counts?

In Batman Unmasked — released in 2001 before the rebooted (and now re-rebooted) Batman movie franchise, Will Booker discusses all of the official Batman products through a critical lens. So much of the official releases are discounted by fans — but yet the core Batman-ness holds true. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible for both Batkid and the Arkham Origins video game to exist and be popularly known at the same time. The fandom has even decided who are the “real” voices of both Batman and the Joker, leaving those productions without Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as less worthy.

The removal of Aaron McGruder from the fourth season of the Boondocks on Cartoon Network is another recent example of the difficulty for fans to figure out what “counts” and what doesn’t. As fans of Community (during last season), fans of Gargoyles, and fans of Gilmore Girls confronted before — does a show continue to be canon when the major creative force behind it leaves?

Does whether some cultural production count as canon or fanon matter whether it is officially authorized? That doesn’t appear to be the line, so what is it? It seems like for most works, for something to be canon, it needs to be produced by the original/real source and be of high enough quality and stand the test of some unknown amount of time. Based on this, it is possible that the new “fanfic” works by the original Vampire Diaries author might be considered to be be canonical works — while the “real” releases will be considered by the fandom to … not count.

The Gargoyles fandom already is an example of a fandom that chooses to embrace as canon only part of the original work, but all of the work of the major creative force as canon. After the major creative force behind the show wrote a Gargoyles comic book series that was a direct sequel to the first and second seasons, completely ignoring the official third season of the show, fans count that as canon, but not the official third season.



What would Pippi Longstocking Do?


by Vivian Obarski


When I grow up, I want to be Pippi Longstocking. I don’t know if I can pull off the fire-red braids that stick straight out, or live in a ramshackle house with a horse on the porch and a pet monkey. Actually, I can’t. My family has told me we’re not allowed to have a horse because they’re too big and won’t be happy in our small backyard. When I was pregnant, my husband vetoed the idea that we name our daughter Pippilotta — admittedly it was partially in jest. Partially.

But I still want to be Pippi Longstocking. I think I’ve always wanted to be her ever since I read the series of books by Astrid Lindgrin. As a child, I loved her boisterous personality — ignoring manners, telling outrageous stories, being as strong as an ox and living alone with her monkey, Mr. Nilsson, and her horse. She’s clever, tricking greedy and unimaginative adults, but not book smart because refuses to go to school.

The stories are fanciful — basically wish fulfillment for kids in some way. Only Pippi (who didn’t have any parents around to tell her to go to school, clean her room or eat her vegetables) could go shopping with a bag of gold coins and buy nothing but candy and toys. There was no way I could do that as a kid with my meager allowance. Nor could I travel to the South Pacific and go swimming for pearls like Pippi and her friends, Tommy and Annika.

But that’s common for children’s literature — some of the most loved classics are about children going on adventures without adult supervision. And at times people outgrow those books, but I haven’t. I still love reading the chapters and her adventures and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gleaned other lessons from the books.

Growing up as the “weirdo” in school, there’s two ways you can go — you either conform and try and fit in, or you can let your freak flag fly and do your thing. Looking back, Pippi’s stories made me embrace my weirdo and just keep being myself, because really, conforming just seemed like more work than it was worth. The lesson of just being yourself is something that will always stick with me.

I’ve also found the books as a good reminder that generosity, kindness and goodness are not associated with how respectable and well-mannered you are. Let’s be honest, Pippi’s manners are horrific, even when she’s trying. She’s brutally honest, but paradoxically prone to outrageous lies and stories. But she’s generous to a fault. She buys toys and candy for all the children in town during her shopping spree, she uses her strength to rescue people from danger time and time again without a second thought.

She’s also a merciful character. While she will toy with thieves to come to her house to steal her suitcase full of gold coins and scare them with her almost superhero strength, she will also give them said loot for dancing and playing with her. She’s made massive feasts for Tommy and Annika for their various adventures and even given them presents and creates fantastic stories for their entertainment. Pippi is never a violent girl, despite her strength and power — her feats of strength are usually in relation to defending or helping other people. How can you not like a character like her?

Years ago, I found the Complete Adventures of Pippi Longstocking for sale in a gift shop and bought it for myself. I wasn’t a parent at the time (it would be years before I became a mother) and I devoured the book. It was as good as I remember — maybe a bit better, because I found myself identifying with both Pippi and the exasperated adults she dealt with (as an adult, I could see both perspectives clearly). It was like a Harold Ramis movie. There were moments where Pippi gleefully thumbed her nose at social convention, but her goodness is never really in doubt, even though she’ll drink a pitcher of coffee and juice at the same time after eating a dozen cookies during an elegant kaffeeklatsch.

I Read A Book: The Korean Popular Culture Reader

Korean Popular Culture Reader

By Raizel Liebler

Korean Popular Culture ReaderKyung Hyun Kim & Youngmin Choe’s edited collection of academic essays, The Korean Popular Culture Reader is an important entry into popular culture and Asian cultural criticism. The cultural relevance of this collection is expected, but what is not expected is how fascinating and well-written all of the essays are.

Generally, in essay collections like this, I end up reading the chapters that are of most interest to me and browse the rest. But here, there were interesting tidbits within each essay, helping to demonstrate both the importance of the specific subject and contextualizing it within a broader culture. Some of the surprising and interesting things I learned about included:

– the construction of the meaning of love within Korean culture — including the word(s) for love;

– how wealthy Koreans interest in luxury high-rise living plus living at home with parents as adults helped to promote computer cafes where 20/30somethings play videogames and flirt;

– the ways that athletes of Korean descent/origin are both accepted and “othered” within sports

Yes, I started reading this book for the first (!?) academic essay on Dramabeans, the Korean drama and fandom site. I think it is important to properly memorialize and capture what this and other sites do, considering when they are gone — like the original version of Television Without Pity and others. The idea that there is now a dissertation on this makes me hopeful for the future of pop culture and Korean culture studies. The Girls’ Generation essay was good, but that wasn’t unexpected. And there are little treats for 2ne1 fans, such as the cover featuring four images of CL and Minzy performing.

My only critique is an odd one — in the chapter about food, some of the transliterations were likely accurate, but threw me off, considering they were not the ones that English readers expect (example: bi-bim-bop).

Overview: Come for the essays you are most interested in, stay for the entire book. Korean popular culture studies will take its place among other subsets of pop culture studies and this book is a great start to help the academic ball rolling.

I Read A Book: danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

cc-licensed photo

Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens is one of the most important books ever on online culture, teens, and the ways societal fears impact lives. It should be read by kids, parents, teachers, policy makers, police, and politicians. And (of course) academics. boyd delves into the lives of teens — online and RL — and how the lines between the two aren’t static and push on each other.

She recognizes that the specific platforms she writes about — MySpace, Facebook, and more — are fungible. The platforms used will continue to change, but the fundamental issues with teens online are continual: “what matters is not the particular social media site but the context in which it’s situated within a particular group of youth.”

boyd understands how teens are working on creating their identities — sometimes one singular identity, but more likely different within different groups and the challenges this causes. She is aware of differences within groups, but makes sure to include the experience of a wide variety of teens, including queer and racially diverse teens. And there is a shoutout to Black Twitter in the discussion of what happens when the boundaries between spaces collapse.

Considering I hope you read this book, instead of restating all of boyd’s points, these are the most surprising takeaways I had:

Teens are highly limited in what they do in real life. Seriously restricted by urban/suburban “planning” and actual or perceived threats of violence. Therefore, teens have limited opportunities to really get to know those that are different. Their online interactions therefore generally reflect their own racial/ethnic/class group.

Parents just don’t understand. The claustrophobia caused by well-meaning parents was almost palpable. In many cases, teens aren’t given an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them — instead there are unending absolutes regarding real life and online interactions. I fear for those that have never received scaffolding from their parents and others in how to interact with online culture. “No, none, ever” is not going to help kids through life.

What the public calls bullying is more complex. Not only is not all bullying equal, but it is difficult to predict how long negative pressures will stay with teens — it may be laughed off immediately or may stay with them forever. Zero tolerance policies limit the ability of teens to “correct” behaviors within their own social circles.

Teens will be adults someday — and that day will be soon. OK, this one seems self-evident — but it seems like many don’t understand that there isn’t a switch that goes as they turn 18 (and another at 21) to make them adults. Teens learn that they aren’t to be trusted to behave online (or in real life). Unless they are allowed into the shallow end of the pool, they won’t be able to do the equivalent of 10 meter diving into online culture the moment they become adults.




Comics Review: The Promise and Problems of Harley Quinn


harleyBy Nicole Keating

I had been ignoring the New 52 iteration of Harley Quinn.  Not because I don’t like Harley.  Au contraire, puddin’!  Since I laid eyes on her, Dr. Harleen Quinzel alias Harley Quinn has been a personal favorite, so I knew I would want to write about her new solo series.  I hesitated because she is so disturbed and so complex that she can be a problematic character to discuss.

On the one hand, there is her…difficult relationship with The Joker.  Dysfunctional-at-best, violent-at-worst, her love for Mr. J is straight out of an after school special on abusive relationships.  She shouldn’t be a character beloved by modern, feminist, powerful women…right?

BUT, on the other hand, she’s just so fun!  She totes comically oversized weapons.  She has a total disregard for (most) human life.  Oh, and of course she’s 100% bananas.  It makes her unpredictable and deliciously violent.  And I love it!  Plus she found the time to become a doctor and master complex gymnastics like it was no big deal, so she must be intelligent and determined.  It’s a combination with promise.

Like Harley herself, Issues 0 & 1 of Harley Quinn, written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, art by Chad Hardin (and others) had promise as well as problems.

Issue 0 was fun but a little confusing.  I found myself constantly flipping back a few pages to make sure I didn’t miss something.  No, I hadn’t missed anything.  I was confused because of awkward pacing, an abundance of inside jokes, and a main device that took a while to become clear.

This prelude issue is an opportunity for, to quote Harley on her own cover, “Seventeen artists telling me how good I look?  Eat your heart out, puddin’!”  And on that, it delivers.  The artists switch as Harley imagines herself into a comic book, fantasizing about who would draw her.  This gives her the power to comment on the artists:  “Hmm, I love the way this guy makes me look, but can he keep a monthly schedule?”  There are even more meta touches; Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti speak directly to Harley, guiding her through the changes in artists.

Not so confusing, right?

Well, all of these meta elements are introduced simultaneously on page 2.  It’s like if you were to start watching Inception halfway through.  There’s reality, then there are the writers, then there are the artists.  Harley operates on all three levels, but she’s an insane supervillain.  It takes more than 2 pages for us mere sane mortals to operate on three levels of reality.

On top of that, they begin the change in artists with an inside joke.  If you don’t catch it, you’ll also have a hard time getting wrapped up in Harley’s fantasy-or-is-it-a-hallucination.  That’s not the last of the in-jokes and references, either.  There are so many, scattered throughout the comic.  I’m sure even I didn’t catch ‘em all.  So your level of enjoyment may depend on the depth of your knowledge of DC artists, their work, and rumors about them.

All that said, each interpretation of Harley is really awesome.  I thought my favorite was Dan Panosian’s Mad Men-esque secretary Harley.  Miss Quinn does not agree:  “Yeah.  Nothing more exciting than being the hot secretary in an office pool of advertising geeks.  How is this any different from the DC offices?  Yawn!”  Then one of my perennial faves put in an appearance:  Adam Hughes!

On top of all the amazing art, each of these 17 artists gift us with a unique scene of mayhem with Harley at the helm, sledgehammer in hand, taking charge of her own story.  She’s a psychopath in command of her life!

This command—while it may not extend to her mental faculties—continues into Issue #1.  We see Harley striking out on her own.  She inherits a building on Coney Island, and the spread where we see the whole block is one I’d like to frame.  The artist that Harley and her writers finally chose—Chad Hardin—gives us a seedy cityscape with loads of carnival touches.  Harley’s building itself is a four-story square with signs boasting: “Freakshow,” “Burlesque,” and “Madame Macabre’s House of Wax and Murder!” I can only agree with my girl Harley when she says, “Jackpot.  I hit the friggin’ jackpot!”

But, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, and being a landlord is no different.  Harley has to get not just one but two jobs to cover the building expenses.  Her first stop is an assisted living home with a special subdivision for dangerous patients.  Then, she kills it at a roller derby tryout.  Oh, the possibilities!!

When Harley Quinn isn’t relying on The Joker or Poison Ivy—though we still don’t know who gave her the building on Coney Island, and we still don’t know whether she imagining this story a la Issue 0—she unlocks possibility.  For laughter, for mayhem, and for a good story!

Like Harley herself, the series seems to be nothing short of fun!

Summary:  Skip Issue #0 if you don’t care for inside jokes, but the series itself will be worth more than the cover price.  With Harley in charge, we have loads of chaos and comedy to look forward

I Read A Book – Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres In Popular Music


by Keidra Chaney

k9617Sociologist and music fan Jennifer C. Lena sought to explore the nature of various historic and contemporary music communities and document the common social elements that allow them to grow and thrive. Her research, published in Banding Together, is a wholly unique and fascinating look at the interaction between social dynamics, creativity, and corporate influence. It’s a short but scholarly read that will be of interest for any cultural studies/sociology scholars (or armchair scholars) looking for a jumping off point for studying and categorizing creative communities.

“Music is particularly in need of thick histories,“ Lena writes in Chapter 1 of the book. “By attributing credit for bold innovations to single individuals, we have a fragile, thin explanation for the very complex worlds in which these performers lived.” Music journalism can be especially enamored with the “singular creative voice” narrative, when it comes to covering musicians, bands and songwriters. This narrative lends itself to interesting storytelling, of course, but it’s also a much less messy and complicated story than attempting to document the major players of a local or national musical community. The contribution of industry professionals, promoters, and fans frequently gets lost in the story, sometimes because they’re indirect – not connected to the music itself, but the community’s promotion or growth. But these missing threads of the narrative are still interesting stuff, and there are definite commonalities between seemingly disparate music communities in terms of their evolution and overall cultural trajectory. The goal of Lena’s work in Banding Together is to articulate those commonalities.

Lena identifies four primary genres or forms of music – Avant-garde, Scene-based, Industry-based, and Traditionalist  –  not classified by musical style, but from a sociocultural theoretical approach that takes into account issues of identity, industry, location, and culture. While her research examines sixty-four total musical styles, she focuses much of the book’s analysis on three specific musical styles –bluegrass, bebop jazz, and “old school”/early rap. While a little confusing at first, Lena takes great pains to distinguish between the definition of “genre” and “style” in this case. A music style may move from one genre classification to the next throughout its lifespan, as it grows in popularity, mainstream acceptance, and musical viability. As a metal fan, I read the book and immediately recognized metal placement in Traditionalist genre category:

 “Traditionalist genres emerge when committed players, fans, and genre supporting business people decry what they identify as the adulterating consequences of the commercial exploitation of the music in the Industry-based genre. They focus on purifying the music by eradicating the excesses of the Industry-based genre and reenacting a version of what the music was like in its Scene-based period”

Come on, if that’s not metal now I don’t know what is.

Lena’s initial work in this field focused on the hip-hop community and hip-hop heads/sociologists may find this book of particular interest; she focuses primarily on the nascent years of rap in the 70’s and 80’s and the intertwining of social/community expression and commercial influence that complicate hip-hop’s historical narrative.

The sociocultural theory of genre types presented in Banding Together is not presented as a singular trajectory for all musical styles. For example, Lena mentions that Nu-metal and Grunge styles remained industry and scene-based and never go through a Traditionalist stage. In fact, only 16 of the musical styles she studied go through a trajectory of all four genre types. Many musical styles and communities evolve into something else as they become absorbed into other styles or co-opted by corporate influences. Lena also studies four “Government-purposed” music styles in China, Chile, Nigeria, and Serbia, and how music communities play a role in these countries to further specific mindsets and values.

Banding Together, while a pretty short read at 170 pages, is very much a historical piece of scholarship. It’s not ethnographic or an oral history; no first-person interviews appear in the book. It’s also not a book about fan communities, interestingly enough, at a time where so many scholarly books of this kind focus on fan communities and behavior.

Summary: Highly recommended. For readers used to reading “Aca-fan” style academic writing, Banding Together may take some getting used to but the work is fascinating and certainly needed, and may be of particular interest for music critics and journalists.

I Read A Book:Limor Shifman’s Memes in Digital Culture


MyBindersFullOfWomenExplodedby Raizel Liebler

Memes in Digital Culture by Limor Shifman is another great addition to the MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series. This book doesn’t dive the deepest, but it lays out all of the important issues well enough for anyone to understand why memes are so sticky — from a college student to an interested grandparent in why kids these days are making wacky cat videos.

Shifman spends the time in this short volume describing what is the difference between memes and virality:

Viral comprises a single cultural unit (such as a video, photo, or joke) that propagates in many copies, an Internet meme is always a collection of texts. … A single video is not an Internet meme but part of a meme – one manifestation of a group of texts that together can be described as the meme. … mememic content is … a living and changing entity that is incorporated in the body and mind of its hosts.

One of the best sections details the value of memes politically, including political participation. There are three significant ways memes have political impact: as political advocacy; as grassroots action – pulling together people who would otherwise not necessarily work together; and as a way of sharing one’s political opinions. And there is an additional value for memes within nondemocratic societies – as democratic subversion.

While the book does a great job of covering memes from a communications/media perspective, there is nary a mention of the impact of law, including copyright. The lack of mention of copyright is especially noteworthy considering that while there are a few word & picture meme examples in the book, some of the most discussed memes are videos, videos that are mentioned without direct links – and considering present YouTube Content ID takedowns, many of the examples mentioned may already not be available – and are likely to be less available in the future.

Finally, the final flaw in this introductory text is a lack of analysis on the differential aspects of memes regarding subcultures and cross-culturally. There is both a chapter on global memes and a discussion of Gangnam Style, but I wanted more – likely not possible in such a short guide, however.

Overall Summary: Memes in Digital Culture is a great overview of the impact of memes in online culture. Other recommended books I’ve read in the series include Open Access by Peter Suber & Intellectual Property by John Palfrey, so I hope the series continues to add more these important brief summaries.

I Read A Book: Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World



by Keidra Chaney

The publication of Textual Poachers in 1992 opened the door of acceptance for an academic study of fan communities and transformative works, and there’s been a multitude of articles, books and even conferences that focus on fandom. A lot of these books tend to focus on the social structures of fandom, legal/political economy factors, or critical theory. All of them serve to broaden the dialogue about transformative works and popular culture – both within fan communities and also among pop culture enthusiasts who aren’t fan creators.

Anne Jamison’s Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over The World is another valuable addition to this broader dialogue. With an academic background in comparative literature and a personal connection to the fanfic community as a beta reader, Jamison’s book approaches fanfiction from the perspective of literary history and critical analysis, referencing contemporary media fandom’s roots in print literature, such as Sherlock Holmes well-known and enduring influence in the fan-writing community.

The book also explores literary practices that pre-date fanfiction as we commonly know it. In an early chapter, Jamison cites examples of fans that feel a sense of ownership of another author’s creation: she recounts the correspondence between a passionate teen fan and Samuel Richardson about the end of his novel Clarissa and mentions William Makepeace Thackeray, who wrote proto-fanfic about Rebecca in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Jamison illustrates that the desire to “play in the sandboxes” of other writers is not just limited to amateur or novice writers but is part of a broader literary culture.

Fic explores the continually evolving relationships between fiction creators, owners, and fans- an interaction between media creators and fans that existed well before the internet and even television. For example, Jamison mentions that Star Trek showrunners were very much aware of the show’s early zine fandom and actually tweaked the show’s focus to Kirk and Spock’s friendship as a response to the tastes of female fans. Jamison connects the parallel histories of literary critique and commentary writing, early print-based science fiction zine fandom, early internet fan-writing communities, and contemporary media fandoms including Harry Potter and Twilight.

All of this is done in a very accessible, personal way. It’s an academic book for sure but Jamison’s writing reflects sincere enthusiasm for the fan-fiction community as well her literary education. She is not comfortable using the term “aca-fan” to describe her work, but if anything is a perfect marriage of scholarly knowledge and fangirl enthusiasm, it’s Jamison’s writing in this book.

However, Jamison does not serve as Fic’s singular voice, and in fact, stresses within the book that the fan-fiction community is best represented through featuring a diversity of voices and perspectives. The book is primarily an anthology, featuring critical essays, interviews, and personal essays from a wide swath of fandoms and genre writing communities (Francesca Coppa, Kristina Busse and Amber Benson to name just three.) The anthology format opens up the conversation on provocative fandom topics (Real Person Fic, Slash, the influence of Big Name Fans and fan-writers gone pro like Cassandra Clare and E.L. James) This diversity sometimes makes the quality and voice of some of the writing inconsistent compared to Jamison’s solid contributions. Even so, Fic is definitely an informative and enjoyable guide to the culture and history of fan-fiction that will appeal to veteran fan-writers and pop-culture folloers who may be too intimidated to jump into this rich subculture.

Summary: Recommended background reading for those new to fan-fiction and a worthy skim for fandom vets

I Read A Book: Orly Lobel’s Talent Wants to be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding


Talent Wants to be Freeby Raizel Liebler

Orly Lobel’s book Talent Wants to be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding (Yale University Press 2013) is game changing. I don’t say this lightly, but if her recommendations are taken seriously, this book has the possibility of changing perceptions and behavior regarding intellectual property by the general public in ways that hasn’t occurred in some time.

Lobel uses the conflicting impulses of control and creativity by employers and employees to explore intellectual property – copyright, patent, trademarks, and trade secrets. However, unlike most intellectual property scholars who look outward from where they are settled, Lobel is steeped in innovation studies, allowing her to give a unique perspective on these issues. She also makes sure to discuss how creativity is more likely to take place when creatives can work in collaborative environments, hopefully putting to bed the idea that the majority of useful creative energy is solo, by a lone inventor.

While employers try to lock down the ability of their employees to leave and take it with them, Lobel describes why employees frequently literally cannot take it with them, due to non-compete agreements and claw-back provisions regarding patents. However, she also delves into the reasons these limitations quash innovation as a whole – and are bad for the economy. She concludes that what is good for the economy and talented employees is also better for employers because the talent swirl benefits all who have something to offer. But that is the rub – she also discusses how the present limitations of employers will not end until they are willing to give up control for the possibility of better, more talented employees.

Additionally, one of the joys of reading this book are the clever turns of phrases. For example: “Innovation is a nuanced mistress hiding behind layers of hard work and knowledge. Asking the right questions is half the battle of finding her.”

Considering this overall glowing review are there any problems with the book? Yes, of course. While there are well-placed mentions of feminist jurisprudence and compelling examples of employer exploitation of employees, there is nary a mention of have-nots or those who are not viewed as “creatives” in this new economy.  Additionally, many creative people at present stand outside of being in the well-appreciated creative class (well-appreciated are generally those that create or sell products that can be patented) and are instead are in what are I’m going to refer to as “brain sweatshops” – I wish this book could have addressed some of the issues that these mostly recent college grads face.

The other problem with this book is not something that Lobel could do anything about – it is not indexed within intellectual property at all, according to the Library of Congress subject headings and call number. This is so, so wrong, but it demonstrates how far ahead this book is in its thinking.

Summary: Highly recommended, for anyone interested in intellectual property, innovation, creativity, and how to get the most from happy creative employees.

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