Yowza. I definitely want to respond to this conversation at Kristina Busse's blog, which started as a response to MiT5 and has headed off into a provocative fandom/fanfic/fan-cooptation discussion. Kristina refers to this post, 'How Fanfiction Makes Us Poor'; I have major problems with the conclusions it draws, its characterization of fanfic as an 'amazing outpouring of female talent,' and the author's apparent naivete about publishing/commercial imperatives/the psychology of fan-criticism (a topic about which I have pretty strong feelings and some experience), and I hope to return to the topic later on.
In any case, there's a harsh but strong response to 'Makes Us Poor' here, many more responses linked by the original author here, some facts here that'll take wind out of your sails no matter who you are, a very smart response here on the subject of 'folk art' and canonicity, a less convincing piece by the same author here (now a couple years old), and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's response to that old piece right around here.
[Update: Whoa there and hello there! If you're thinking of responding angrily to this post, I'd ask that you wander over to Kristina's response first and (if you've got shitloads of time) read the comments thread. I've posted 6,000+ words of reconsideration, elaboration, clarification, and pissing-and-moaning over there, defending what was intended as a tossed-off placeholder post. I'm happy that people are reading this post, but I'd really appreciate some fair-mindedness in my critics; as I said elsewhere 'UR TEH GENDERED' is not an argument, it's a defense mechanism. I'm happy to respond to you but please, give me more to go off of than that.]
Each of these discussions contains (or centers around) implicit or explicit apologies for, or rationalizations of, fan socializing and fanfiction. Socializing needs no apology, but I differ from each of these authors in degree or kind as follows: I think there's something a little horrifying about the world of fanfic. [Note: The following is obviously a set of impressions rather than any well-formed analysis. I'm interested in arguing about fanfic, but not in elaborating on the following, just yet.] It horrifies me not merely from the standpoint of someone who idiosyncratically, even meanly, values writerly originality and integrity - such that pasted-in sexualities and alternate justifications for actions in hopefully well-wrought narratives strike me as artificial, arbitrary, and therefore inauthentic. Centrally, I find much fanfic (particularly slash and AU [alternate universe] stories) horrifying because of what it says about reading practices: the privileging of the reader's self-centered longing over the writer's coherent work (even when fanfic authorship is couched in terms of 'homage' and 'paying back in kind,' ludicrous notions), the institutionalization and rationalization of prurience as criticism (not always the case, but let's not pretend that 'kink' isn't its own attraction and reward in the interpretive community of fandom), the regression to adolescent/juvenile/childlike modes of expression (squee! squick!) and sexual identity in the face of merely undesirable or somehow unpalatable emotional outcomes - e.g. Willow Rosenberg moving on from the memory of Tara MacLay) - rather than meeting those outcomes on their own terms as part of a whole dramatic form, etc.
Basically I see the creative aspects of fanfic as a distant second, motivation- and interest-wise, to the remedial aspects: social, psychological, sexual, etc. Which is fine to a degree, particularly in kids, but worrisome in adults. (I accept that this statement may make me One of Those Assholes, but it's not unreflective criticism, just ungenerous. Better men and women have said worse!) It's an activity that resembles wide-audience and mass-audience and even genre-audience storytelling only mechanically; at heart, the basic mode of fanfic isn't writing-as-challenge, which for better or worse I take to be the high purpose of art, but writing-as-salve. This is place to point out that my attitudes and observations re: fanfic are 'gendered' rather strongly, i.e. labeling some activity 'XXXX-as-salve' is a criticism often leveled at 'women's work' and social forms. All I can say is, that's not my aim. I mean it.
[How much fanfiction have I read? If you're a participant in the fanfic community, less than you. If you're a media scholar or student of fandom, maybe more, probably less. If you're none of those things, I've read more fanfic than you, from Buffy slash and het to Sailor Moon fan-novels and at least one awe-inspiring Chip'n'Dale Rescue Rangers fan-comic (you know the one). Such quantification is distasteful but unavoidable. Hell, I used to write 'fanfic' about Phish, fantasy setlists for shows that never took place - and back in those days you had to preface every post to rec.music.phish with a disclaimer giving the number of shows you'd attended and the hours of Phish tapes you'd heard. Embarrassing.]
Anyhow I wanna come back to these topics. In the meantime, if they interest you at all, the links above are provocative and rich, particularly the first, which (for its uncommented irritations and assumptions) is a friendly conversation among academics in an accessible scholarly pidgin. There you go: one more good thing that came out of MiT5.