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Don’t justify fanfiction

| Sunday, February 13, 2005

I’ll admit that I have erred in the past regarding which Observer columns I’m supposed to find funny (that Gary Caruso guy is hilarious!), but Lance Gallop’s recent “Copyright in a free society” had to be a joke. Come on, Lance. That you even know anything about the phenomenon suggests you have at least limited exposure to the kinds of people who write fanfiction. They are anything but crusaders fighting a losing battle against the copyright juggernaut.

Fanfiction is a symptom of a society violently ill with its own conformity. Afraid to find their own voices as writers, teenagers and young adults latch on to their favorite works in the most superficial manner possible, copying plots, modifying characters and of course, using the work of others to fulfill their particular teenage fantasies. Inserting yourself into your favorite literary work or movie is one of the more perverse forms of wish-fulfillment I’ve come across. Almost universally, fanfiction is written by teenagers, often socially outcast, who have been denied every outlet for their thoughts and can only express themselves in a parasitic relationship with something that is considered “acceptable” creativity. Lauding these people as heroes is justifying their sorry situation as suffering for a cause.

The people who write fanfiction do so not out of a desire to reinterpret the work of others to their culture, but rather to suit their own personal insecurities. Teen angst is nothing new, but at least our parents didn’t steal mediocre band lyrics and post them on their Livejournals. Fanfiction is proof the old adage about there being no new ideas is only correct if you don’t consider Dorothy Gale being a lesbian werewolf in school with Harry Potter and Legolas a new idea. And people wonder why Anne Rice isn’t big on this stuff.

There is a difference between reference and outright theft. If you want to reinterpret the symbols and ideas of your culture, you have to try a little bit. By the way: “The Wizard of Oz” entered the public domain in 1956. Much of the work created based on it was approved under copyright.

Peter Scott


Carroll Hall

Feb. 11