Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cheerleading Only, All Others Reported

[photo: Br3nda via Flickr]
Being a fan fiction author by very definition means one is first a fan—that's shorthand for fanatic, a person with more than average devotion to a subject.

Fan fiction communities are collectives of individual devotees loosely organized around a shared subject of interest and hobbyist writings about the same. These folks know their material inside and out, and they are passionate in sharing information about their favorite topic; they're quick to note flaws in fiction writing because of their deep knowledge base.

And yes, I'm a fanatic. I hang with two fandoms revolving around the Twilight Saga and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. To date I've read approximately 75 million words of fan fiction based on these two subjects.

But I'm also a subject matter expert in fields not related to fan fiction. Today I experienced a collision between my fan fiction world and my real world knowledge; it wasn't pretty.

A particular fan fiction work (fanfic) now being published posits a contemporary Fitzwilliam Darcy as a hitman contracted the U.S. government. So far, so good; while this premise is on the fringe of legality under U.S. law and illegal under global treaties, the U.S. does contract "killers" who work with Defense Department's Joint Special Operations Command. They are supposed to work outside the U.S. on matters under Defense Department purview including counterterrorism and illegal drug interdiction.

However, this particular fanfic moves from a credible to incredible storyline where Darcy and his contracting firm have accepted a contract, no questions asked, at the order of the White House to target an American on American soil.

Nope. This is a hard limit for me. The premise asks readers to accept grossly illegal, unconstitutional activity; it's a concept so over the top that belief cannot be suspended. Worse, in two installments to date the piece trends toward agitprop or disinformation in its premise that a "good guy" like Darcy would naturally agree to such activity to defend his country.

Does a serious fan let this go, or do they take issue, especially if they know their American history well enough to say this fiction is over the line?

I debated for a while about it, but my conscience wouldn't let me ignore this problem. I posted a comment contesting the premise.

The comment was reported and taken down. Apparently the community only likes happy cheerleading comments and not challenges to facts when it comes to American history.

I no longer have the final comment as published, but I have the first draft here which I'll share for further consideration.
This piece starts powerfully, painting rich characters and setting up a compelling initial storyline.

At this point, I need to express my concerns. As writers we are creators of culture; as readers, we are validators and disseminators of culture. It's with these roles and their incumbent responsibilities that I find I must express this concern publicly rather than in a private message.

Characters set up as "good guys" who willingly accept without question an assignment which is unconstitutional and illegal pose an ethical problem for readers. Perhaps I'm wrong, correct me if you will, but it appears that Darcy, as an established government-sponsored hit man, now has a contract targeting an American citizen on American soil. If I've assumed incorrectly, please feel free to tell me.

However, if this assumption is correct, the employees of DBI have willingly accepted a job violating a fellow citizen's rights to due process, calling their mark a "traitor" without evidence or prosecution, without questioning the legitimacy of CIA's order (thought CIA has a dubious trackrecord over history). Further, DBI characters also appear unfamiliar with the history of the Church and Pike Committees, as well as multiple Executive Orders issued by several presidents with regard to assassinations by or on behalf of the government.

While it's clear from the very recent events surrounding the leak of selected intelligence slides that National Security Agency contractors have engaged in what may be illegal activities, contract work including extrajudicial execution of an American citizen on American soil would ordinarily be questioned by serious contract firms as crossing a red line of legality.

It is difficult to believe that credible fictional contractors would not give pause before accepting such a contract.

It is also difficult to suspend belief that extrajudicial execution is preferable to taking a U.S. suspect into custody, trying him in a court of law, followed by imprisonment if guilty. The amount of intelligence the government could obtain from a suspect before and after trial is invaluable (and has precedent).

One might argue that the storyline could eventually reveal a rogue presidency, but this does not explain the lack of pushback by DBI in the second installment against an illegal contract.

I hope these concerns will be addressed. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

This represents about 90% of the comment posted. Links to background on the Church and Pike Committees as well as the Declaration of Independence were provided. The last pointedly notes Americans' rejection of the British monarchy because of its unilateral extrajudicial executions.

I'd have had little problem with the work in question had they built an entirely new universe, but they didn't. The Pride and Prejudice communities typically don't like deviations from historical facts without pointed author's notes to this effect, but none was furnished with this fanfic.

A fanatic's reaction? Yeah—and a little more since I do know something about contemporary American history.

Now a new challenge arises: given the particular community's inability to handle such criticism and an apparent double standard with regard to historical facts, should I waste my time with posting any more of my work there? Should I leave my work there or pull it for a more favorable venue?

I guess I'm going to have to look for other fans like me in order to make this decision.

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