Blog Post

Blog Diss: On Writing Slash in China and Crowdfunding Anonymous

I’m experiencing a lot of anxiety about the fact that I skipped a day of blogging yesterday when I was so close to meeting my goal, but alas. Instead I ate some delicious pumpkin cheesecake, hung out with family and pals, and watched Game of Thrones. (Man, I have all the feelings about THAT and many of them are not good, but that’s for another post, when I figure out how to pretend that Game of Thrones is somehow related to my dissertation…)

While I was trying to decide whether I actually regretted any of these life decisions or not, I decided to abate my guilt somewhat by briefly discussing two things I’ve recently been thinking about.

The first is this article, which describes the recent arrest of at least 20 young fanfiction writers in China.

The writers, mostly young women, were arrested not for any copyright violations, but because they predominantly write slash fanfiction, The Daily Dot article I linked to does a wonderful job highlighting the ways in which these arrests are not only homophobic, but highly sexist. Take this gem, for instance:

“The police officers also arrested young women who participated on the website, all the while expressing horror that the young women had fallen into such a shocking pastime. The report stated that most of the 20 fans who'd been arrested for writing fanfiction across the nation had been "introverted" women in their 20s. One young woman, Xiao Li, was described as being polite and "very obedient."

Another article, linked to on the original, notes that Johnlock (or the slash pairing of BBC’s Sherlock and John Watson) is a particularly popular one in China. Now I know I’ve been picking on Sherlock a lot lately, but it’s partially because I love the show and want it to do better by its fandom. And I think it’s important to see these arrests in China and the attack from folks involved with Sherlock on fans as mutually supporting one another. Let me be clear: no one associated with the show is calling for the arrest of slash fanfiction writers. However, the mocking of fandom and specifically female-generated slash fanfiction ultimately sends what I view as a complimentary message: that these women are producing work that, if not dangerous, is certainly illegitimate and unworthy of defense or recognition.

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I also came across this crowdfunding effort, which is seeking to raise money for the so-called “PayPal 14”. The group faces felony and misdemeanor charges due to their use of a distributed denial of service attack against Pay Pal, a move which came in response to the latter cutting off service to Wikileaks.

This campaign is interesting to me on a number of levels, not the least of which is the fact that it is a near-collision of two of my stated regions of interest within my dissertation: crowdfunding and piracy. (While hacking and piracy are by no means interchangeable, there is significant overlap between the populations involved, and they face many of the same legal and social challenges.) I’m particularly interested in the way that this campaign might enact some of what is so interesting to me about crowdfunding, which is the production of collectivity based largely on an affective alignment.

While the poster for the campaign deploys affect in specific and recognizable ways, one of the more subtle affective spaces of the campaign seems to be in its breakdown of ‘benefits’ for backers. Those donating $5, for instance, are referred to as “Skiddies”, and the next level, $10, is deemed for “n00bs”, who are instructed to be grateful that “at least [they]’re not a skiddie” (n.p.). Those who donate highest amount, over $100, are termed “freedom fighter[s]”, and promised “hugs from all”. While we might see a more earnest deployment of affect for the higher brackets of donation, I would argue that the entire structure is steeped in affective relationality specific to the community. The lesser donation levels reflect precisely the kind of playfulness and desire for technological mastery that Gabriella Coleman (2012) has noted is central to Open Source and hacking communities.

Unlike some crowdfunding projects, then, this one does not promise a product or commodity to backers, regardless of their level of donation. Instead, each level of donation is associated with a particular affective state or mode of recognition. This suggests to me not the apolitical claim that affects are their own reward, but that Anonymous has its own ‘structure of feeling’ (Williams), and that this structure is built into how the crowdfunding campaign speaks to and for its membership.

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