Over the past two weeks, io9 has been running new installments of Rob Bricken's Fan Fiction Friday column, which he brought over from his previous blog, Topless Robot. It's a column where Rob finds a piece of over-the-top fanfic and makes fun of it, Mystery Science Theater style. It is intended as self-parody, a fan making fun of fandom, but that is not how you perceived it. A massive outpouring of emails, comments, and tweets from all of you have made us realize that it's not going to work on io9. We are going to discontinue running it. Here are the factors that swayed our decision.
Picking on the Little Guy
What, you might ask, makes FFF different from many other articles on io9 where we mock everything from the latest True Blood episode to various trends in science fiction or futurist thought? We're not exactly allergic to satire, and we get criticized for our rants all the time. So why do we keep running those, but not FFF? The difference is that people who write fanfic are amateurs, writing mostly for themselves or a small group of friends, who are not soliciting publicity and attention. They are not pretentious either — they are not trying to claim their work is great literature. It's just fun.
The vast majority of fanfic writers are the archetypal little guys, without a big media platform where they can defend themselves if a large publication like io9 decides to make fun of their work. When io9 makes fun of Damon Lindelof or the latest episode of Beauty and the Beast, we are picking on targets who are our own size or bigger. There is an argument to be made that because fanfic writers put their writing online in archives, they are asking for attention from a place like io9 or even a media megacorp like FOX News. Technically, I suppose this is true. But by the same token, most fanfic archives and communities are run as safe spaces, places where writers are encouraged to pour their hearts and fantasies out without fear of reprisals.
Many of the people who wrote to us to explain their concerns about FFF used the word "shaming" to describe what they felt the feature was doing. Again, this was not our intent, but intent doesn't matter. Because if people are feeling shamed by what they read, then that's a problem. Part of io9's ethic of not picking on the little guy means respecting the safe spaces that fans set up for themselves, and not publicly mocking them just because we can. Our goal as satirists is to mock targets our size or bigger — or, alternatively, to criticize ideas rather than individuals. FFF made individual little guys feel shamed and mocked. And that's not OK.
Context, Context, Context
I think what made so many of us fans of FFF when it ran on Topless Robot was the fact that it was written by a fan, for a fan site. It was not the only article about fandom that appeared on TR on a regular basis, and therefore it wasn't the only representation of fandom that readers would see. On io9, however, we cover many topics, from science, art, and futurism, to mainstream movies, television, comics and books. We love fandom, but we don't cover it every day. As a result, FFF runs the risk of overwhelming our coverage of fandom, and making it seem as if every piece of fanfic or art should be mocked. Which none of us on the io9 staff believe — and none of us want to make io9's readers outside fandom believe it, either.
If FFF ran alongside a "Fanfic is awesome" feature every week, my decision about FFF might have been different. And maybe at some point io9 will grow big enough that we can cover every aspect of fandom in all its complexity, and reach the point where fans will see FFF as just one tiny slice a vast and diverse fandom. But for now, we have a lot of other stuff to cover, to keep you updated on the latest scientific discoveries and bugfuck plot developments on Revolution. So the context on io9 is not ideal for FFF.
Choosing to discontinue FFF was one of the toughest decisions I've made in my time as editor-in-chief at io9. I love to watch Rob's insane humor in action, and FFF really is hilarious. I am also a fan of erotic fanfic, which I've written myself (no I will not tell you what or where).
But this wasn't a contest between Rob's awesomeness and the awesomeness of fanfic. I came to my decision because I know how it feels to be shamed by institutions and people who can broadcast their thoughts a lot farther than I ever could. I want io9 to be a safe space for dark satire, but I also want it to be a safe space for the little guy to dream his or her harmless, weird dreams in peace.
There are many examples of awful writing and terribly conceived stories left for us to make fun of, so don't worry that we're going soft. We're going to continue smashing the faces of the big guys, and making fun of ideas — and we're going to leave all of you alone. Unless you are Michael Bay. In which case, what the fuck, dude.