It seems Chris Gore has routinely put on events entitled Fan Fic Theatre, in which he has comedians read fan fiction aloud. This year’s version at WonderCon would have featured “Giselle B. (Defective Geeks Podcast), Adrianne Curry (Cosplay Queen, America’s Next Top Model) Mary Forrest (The Biloon-Forrest Project Podcast), Ivy Doomkitty (SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay, Int’l Costumer), Tommy Bechtold (ABC’s The Middle), Matt Keil (G4TV’s X-Play), Yoshi Obayashi (comedian) and more.”
But it was not to be. Thanks to a barrage of angry Tweets, Gore and WonderCon came to the joint decision to cancel the event – though Gore will be hosting an unspecified alternative one in its place.
Naturally, I have some thoughts on this.
Look, I know the nerd community has traditionally been comprised of people who were bullied for their interests. It’s not quite the same today, but there is definitely some mental holdover. At the same time, it is fundamental to ANY community that we be able to laugh at ourselves. Think about it: what do both “men’s rights activists” and “SJWs” hate the most about each other? Seems to me it’s the humorlessness and perpetually aggrieved status they perceive the other side (but never their own) to have.
Back in my OC Weekly days, I wrote an article or two about the tattoo convention scene, occasionally cracking a mild joke about the obviousness of designs based on skulls, or the community’s disproportionate love for old country musicians who might not have been so socially open-minded. I came at this with love, being somewhat inked myself (and by somewhat, I mean there’s a giant dreamcatcher on my back, script on my chest, and a few things on my arms) and having found tattoo conventions at the time to be the only places where I ever saw people who dressed the way I did.
My subjects were not amused, to put it mildly. Ironically for people who stick themselves with ink-filled needles, I found many of the folks in that world to be astonishingly thin-skinned. One convention promoter called me up and yelled at me for half an hour about how tattoo artists were the modern-day Rembrandts and Picassos. Commenters on the website, incapable of doing Google image searches, imagined me to be a yuppie with a pink sweater tied around my shoulders (the irony of the idea that I should be made fun of for my imagined appearance did not occur). The notion that I was – at least to some degree – one of them just trying to have fun with our shared interests was completely lost, because I hadn’t proclaimed tattoo art to be the greatest form of modern art the world today sees.
Fan fiction, like tattoos, stands out online, for better or worse. And whether the tattooed person or the fanfic writer realizes it or not, they are putting themselves into a public space. If you post something you wrote online and honestly don’t expect people to read it, you’re doing the Internet wrong. If what you post involves cartoon ponies being raped and you don’t expect some degree of mockery, you understand humanity wrongly.
I have always liked that this site never shies away from the worst sides of fandom as well as the best. And yes, we focus here more on bad fan fiction than good, in large part because we are (ostensibly) a humor site. Comic-Con bills itself as “a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms.” That we’re setting a precedent here that certain areas of fandom are off-limits to have fun with is slightly troubling. If making light of fan fiction (something Gore, for what it’s worth, says he was not planning to do) is off the table, should we not do things like Starship Smackdown, the annual Comic-Con panel wherein comedians speculate, for laughs, which fictional spaceships would win a fight? Must we read minds to determine in advance whether or not each joke will be mean-spirited? We’re having fun with it, not saying it should not exist; crucially, Gore says he had permission from the original writers to read their stuff, something he does not legally have to obtain.
Comic-Con hasn’t shied away from panels discussing censorship. Nor, in my view should they avoid discussing things like GamerGate, the Batgirl variant cover, or anything else that gets people hot on social media. Bringing the discourse into the public sphere humanizes your opponents, and when moderated, forces a give and take. If people are bothered by Chris Gore’s take on fan fiction, let them express it during the Q&A. I think he can take it, and he might surprise you with a more nuanced opinion than you’d imagine. You might even change his mind. It happens.
And to the aggrieved writers: are we to suppose you’ve never made fun of any other creator who put their work out in the public space? Ever made jokes at the expense of Michael Bay, or Rob Liefeld, perhaps? It’s part of the deal. Sure, they’re getting paid, and fanfic writers aren’t. But I could show you any number of indie filmmakers whose terrible movies made them no money at all – are those immune from commentary?
Not to mention: fan fiction is ITSELF a commentary on an existing creative work. You don’t think George Lucas would be embarrassed and uncomfortable reading Slave Leia/Jar Jar shipping? Wouldn’t you want his reaction to be something like, “Ha ha, well, that sure is…interesting” rather than “DIE IN A FIRE I’M GOING TO SUE YOU FUCK SHIT ASS”?
The world will survive without Chris Gore reading fanfic aloud. The precedent of conventions caving to angry Tweets isn’t great, though.
Bomb threats, I get. Angry Tweets, not so much.