I've been involved off and on with fandom since...ooooo...grammar school (that would be pre-teens for you non-U.S. people). I can't say for sure, but definitely almost that long.
And I have to say, before this week the only Perfect Storm I knew about was the one I lived through back in 1991 when the No Name nor'easter battered the New England coast and killed the crew of the Andrea Gail out of Gloucester in the People's Republic of Massachusetts.
And yet, here I am, staring at what is possibly a true Perfect Storm in the virtual world of fandom culture. It is amazing and terrifying to behold.
You know the story of the recent wanks, I'm sure, so I'm only going to give a few bullet points here:
- The infamous "Take Me Now" Mary Jane statue from Sideshow that had the female wing of comics fandom (and a few of us not part of it) highly incensed. The outrage and the wank reached to such levels that it actually made the main stream news, and had artist Adam Hughes, who created the art upon which the statue was based, crying about those mean ol' girls hashing his wet dreams.
- FanLib and their boneheaded plan to earn money from free content provided by fanfic writers, and the overwhelming unification of fandom against that mess. The overwhelming spit in the eye from fandom even has the founders crying about meeeeeeen girls. (Yes, the link is to my own LJ, but really, it's all over LJ at this point. The links I've got there are a good start.)
- The LJ near-crash that has been caused by DDoS attack. While LJ is fighting against it, some of us have been cut off from posting, including a lot of fannish folk.
The timing of everything between Mary Jane and FanLib, which has thrown a bit of a spotlight on fandom in general and LJ in particular, coupled with the DDoS attack on LJ, has resulted in, ummm, an interesting rumor that LJ is being pressured to censor fannish content and dump fannish members.
When I saw it hitting my FList this morning I was skeptical at best. It was too vaguely worded, and I couldn't find a source of the rumor. The closest I was able to get was the dreaded, "I have a friend who heard from a friend..."
Yeah, not exactly winning points with me, either.
Think about this: there are quite a few actively fannish people among our LJ overlords. If this pressure really was happening, the news would've been out at the speed of light. The confirmation, complete with documentation, would've followed at the speed of sound.
All I can say is: Hurrah! My instincts were right. It's nothing more than bad timing for a DDoS attack.
While I enjoyed this proof that a rumor can run around the world while the truth is still trying to find its boots, I did not enjoy seeing my fellow U.S. citizens on LJ freak the fuck out. It drove home just how precarious all of us in the U.S. of A feel when it comes to our ability to communicate with each other without restriction or some authoritarian peering over our shoulders to make sure we "only color between the lines."
Yes, yes, I am aware that LJ does reserve the right to shut us down at any time, but I'm speaking to a larger point here — namely justified paranoia.
Oh, joy. We're now a-scared of forces within our own country ranging from big business to U.S.-based Internet service providers to our government.
The sad thing is, we're right to be a-scared.
Chugging along in the background, whether you know it or not, are proposed laws that will infringe even further on the rights of the U.S. citizen with respect to their online activities. Note these two proposed laws below:
- Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007, which was proposed by our sleazy attorney general Alberto Gonzalez, is essentially a thought-crime law. According to Wired:
Essentially, the bill would turn copyright law into something more akin to existing drug laws: The government could seize personal property, wiretaps would become legal for the first time, violators could face life in prison and, in an ambiguous and far-reaching provision, the mere attempt to violate a copyright would become a crime.
The Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007, proposed by Gonzales on Monday, would amend current U.S. copyright law to give the government far more power to investigate and prosecute cases, expand the scope of what constitutes a criminal act, and would stiffen penalties, including adding life terms for those whose activities cause death.
Among the proposed changes, the bill would make it easier to charge someone as a repeat offender and stiffen the penalty for recidivism. It would expand forfeiture provisions to allow the government to seize any property used in the commission of a crime -- a PC, a home, cash on hand.
Exporting pirated material would also become a crime and the bill would grant the feds wiretapping authority, which it currently lacks. The "attempt" provision, stipulating that mere intent constitutes a crime, means that the law could conceivably be expanded to interpret a computer full of music next to a spindle of blank CDs as an act of piracy.
Just in case you're wondering, the vaguely-worded nature of the law means that it could apply to just about anything, up to an including fannish activities. Think about that. Fanfiction, LJ icons, fan-created soundtracks and videos all use copyrighted material.
Hell, thanks to a vaguely worded child porn law a grandmother was charged for taking pictures of her grand-daughters in their birthday suits.
Does this proposal worry me? You betchya.
Sure, maybe I'm being paranoid. But I live in a U.S. where the feds have decided that they reserve the right to tap my DSL and phone lines on the flimsiest of excuses. I live in the U.S. where shit like this happens.
Yeah, to say this law gives me the heebie-jeebies is an understatement.
- Last year, there was a proposed law that would've forbidden schools and libraries from letting computer users link to social networking sites. In case you're wondering, the so-called "MySpace Bill" could've affected, oh, LiveJournal, GreatestJournal, JournalFen, Facebook, WordPress...in short, sites where blogging occurs.
It could also could've potentially affected sites that support IM chat and have discussion boards. If it had passed and it did apply, it would've affected Television Without Pity, Yahoo, Google, Usenet...I think you get the picture here.
In short, this law could have potentially cut us off from each other, or limited access to Wild West of the Web to only those of us who can afford our own computer and our own link to the Internet. It would've further separated the haves (even if we're haves by the skin of our teeth) from the have-nots.
And do you want to know what the excuse was for the law? To "protect the children." Fuck that noise. I've become convinced if these authoritarian nannies had any say about it, they'd make it illegal for any child under the age of 16 to walk on the sidewalk all by their lonesome.
The only reason why it didn't get anywhere was because it was pushed back by bloggers and other assorted online netizens.
In any case, this should scare the shit out of you. It sure as hell scares the shit out of me. The fact is, this bill was proposed, and it was under serious consideration at one point. It took mass action from disparate parties to shut it down.
Which gets me thinking: and it's something that I think we've all overlooked.
Look around you. Look at your FList. Instead of seeing that FList as a bunch of single pages, think of them as a list of individuals. And each one of those individuals have FLists of their own.
Then think about how fast information flashes across LJ — be it fannish stuff, or memes, or wank. Think how it sometimes jumps out of or into fandom, or communities with specialized interests, crossing not just the boundaries we put up via our interest lists, but also some real life barriers, like...geography, language, and national borders.
Then I want you to think of how many people are here. No, think about it. There are almost 13 million people here. (Source: LJ stats.) Sure, active bloggers are somewhat less than that, but even if you cut that number in half, that's still roughly 7.5 million people.
Do you wanna know what that is, kiddoes?
Now before you laugh it off, I want you to think about something:
Remember how back in March 2006 there were a bunch of protests over draconian actions (both real and proposed) taken with respect to illegal aliens in the U.S.? Remember how one of those protests involved 15,000 L.A. students who staged a walk-out and school administrators were caught off guard because there wasn't even a rumor this was going to happen?
Wanna know how they organized? MySpace.
A social networking site.
In fact, the social networking site that was the primary target of the so-called "MySpace Bill." The same bill that got shot down by mass action on the part of the online community.
Now I ain't sayin' that maybe my fellow U.S. citizens on LJ should be getting organized. And I ain't sayin' that maybe my fellow U.S. citizens should be dousing their friendly neighborhood Congress-critters with, oh, their opinions.
But wouldn't it be kind fun of we did?
I mean, people on LJ raised such a ruckus over Mary Jane and FanLib that people outside of our little world of LJ (not to mention outside of our little world of fandom) actually heard us bitch about it.
Now think of what we could do if we decided to start stomping on proposed laws that are not in our best interests.
While I'm not a Firefly fan, I truly can't think of a better call here:
I think that it's time we all aim to misbehave.
ETA: Thanks to mpoetess from pointing out that the fight over the so-called "MySpace Bill" happened last year. The original text has been altered to reflect that change. A big thank you to mpoetess for correcting me.