The Web planet: How the changing Internet divided Doctor Who fan fiction writers

Leora Hadas

Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel

[0.1] Abstract—This paper analyzes the debate that arose in online Doctor Who fandom surrounding the switch to moderated submissions for "A Teaspoon and an Open Mind," the fandom's main fan fiction archive. As has been the case with many classic texts of science fiction and fantasy, from The Lord of the Rings on, the new adaptation of the cult series Doctor Who was the cause of much tension and conflict within the fandom. It has opened up the franchise to a vast new audience unschooled in the fandom's ways or the ways of fandom at large, and the change in archive policy served as an arena where many of these tensions came to a head. An in-depth analysis of this debate leads to the argument that the cultural logics of fandom and of participatory culture might be more separate than they initially appear. Some fans wholly embrace the ideals of Web 2.0 and argue for the archive as a nonhierarchical, communal space where all content is equal regardless of what standards it might not meet. Yet while their rhetoric resembles the ideas of academia about the potential of fandom as an educational space, other, more veteran fans reject academia, instead using the discourse of private enterprise and property rights, more commonly associated with the producers of texts than with their fans and poachers, to argue for the rights of site moderators to regulate content.

[0.2] Keywords—Adaptation; Archive; A Teaspoon and an Open Mind; Doctor Who; Fan fiction; Web 2.0

Hadas, Leora. 2009. The Web planet: How the changing Internet divided Doctor Who fan fiction writers. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The first days of 2008 saw an upheaval in the large, active, and notoriously conflicted online fan community of the science fiction series Doctor Who: the fandom's largest fan fiction archive, A Teaspoon and an Open Mind (T&OM,, stopped allowing stories to be uploaded automatically and began moderating all submissions. This move was met by a variety of reactions, but one incident that stands out took place following the banning of popular author MelindaKitty: another author was prompted to publicize her claims against T&OM and call for discussion in the pages of a blog called fighting_spoon. In a fandom that has, since the 2005 relaunch of the series, been dealing with increasing fragmentation and conflict within its ranks, such a rallying cry was all that was needed to set off a loud debate.

[1.2] In this paper, I wish to present and examine the controversy and subsequent conflict surrounding the switch to moderation of T&OM not only in light of the upheavals within Doctor Who fandom, but also within the context of the broader changes and challenges that online fan communities increasingly face with the advent of what is commonly called participation culture. I propose that, while the logic of participation might seem to mirror the logic of fandom (Bassett 2008), they are not one and the same; that even an interpretive fannish community cannot be seen apart from its own norms and ideals; and that the loose and open nature of participatory culture as idealized in the Web 2.0 model might, in fact, clash with these ideals as much as it might clash with the wider cultural model of production it is threatening to replace. In analyzing the discussion taking place between supporters and detractors of archive policy on the fighting_spoon community, I highlight the clash of two different discourses of fandom as they appeared in this case: a fandom-as-organized-community view that relies upon the rhetoric of private enterprise and stresses the importance of norms and standards, and a fandom-as-free-space discourse echoing notions expressed in academic literature of fandom as a safe, equal-opportunity creative and didactic environment. This clash also serves to illustrate the problems of viewing participation culture and fandom as driven by the same logic.

2. Community and conflict: Doctor Who fandom between Old and Nu

[2.1] Running 26 consecutive years from 1963 to 1989, Doctor Who was not just a science fiction classic, but also a cultural icon in Britain. After its cancellation, in spite or perhaps because of the various fannish enterprises that stepped up to produce more of the text, it became something of a niche interest, as an invested and close-knit fan community grew around the Big Finish audio plays and the various lines of books. The 2005 revival of the series, now commonly known as Nu Who, caught these fans by surprise, and was not necessarily greeted with joy.

[2.2] By January 2008, when the T&OM controversy broke out, the new series of Doctor Who was enjoying a fantastic popularity. This is attested to by the wild surge of series fan fiction on the site—from a mere 710 between 1998 and 2005 to over 12,000 by mid-2008. The once-small fandom was now met with the scenario faced by a growing number of cinema and television adaptations and revivals, from the 2001 The Lord of the Rings films to Battlestar Galactica and Watchmen: a science fiction or fantasy classic, long loved and cherished by a dedicated fannish minority, suddenly opened to a huge new flux of eager, often young, outsiders with little initial awareness and investment in the original text and no experience in the ways of its longtime fandom—or indeed, any fandom at all. Although these newcomers share the same virtual space with more veteran fans, they do not necessarily share the same virtual community, constructed by practices and norms that have sometimes been in place well before said community came online.

[2.3] This now-common scenario is among several factors that have seen fandom change a great deal from the isolated and misunderstood subculture first studied by now-canonical accounts such as those of Jenkins (1992), Tulloch and Jenkins (1995), and Penley (1991), among others. What was once thought of as a unique viewing position of intense, creative involvement has been steadily losing its exclusivity under assault by the combined forces of marketing and technology. Media corporations have long since come to appreciate the value of a fiercely devoted and invested crowd of consumers, despite fans' unruly ways with their texts; the Internet and other digital technologies that allow users to create, manipulate, and share content provide the other piece of the puzzle. What was once reserved for a particular audience—whether they were considered freaks and geeks or the countercultural elite—is rapidly becoming all the rage in media production as well as consumption.

[2.4] All these changes have necessitated a move away from canonical ideas and conceptions of all things fannish, from the definition of a fan to the inherent value (or lack thereof) of fan work. Recent fandom studies have for some time now been attempting to formulate their own discourses around evolving fandom; not everything is textual poaching (Jenkins and Hills 2006; McGowan 2007). Rather, trends in current research often approach fandom within the larger concept of participation culture and the power struggle and cultural shift inherent in the blurring of borders between producers and consumers. The exclusive narrative of fandom as a unique phenomenon, which fans themselves often adopt in their self-construction opposite "mundanes" and "couch potatoes" (Merrick 2004), thus gives way before the inclusive narrative of participation culture as an open and empowering playground in which the entire audience can play, regardless of their level of involvement, experience, or competence (Lee 2004; Pugh 2004). Of particular interest are the studies of neonate online communities of mostly teenaged fan fiction writers, which broach the idea of fan fiction as an experimental arena where young writers can take their first interpretive and creative steps within an interested and supportive community (Jenkins 2006; Thomas 2006).

[2.5] Little attention, however, has so far been paid to the reactions of the long-time fans to all these developments. Such learning- and play-oriented communities, in which there is no right way to be a fan, might be perceived as empowering to these young people taking their first steps into participation, but the more experienced and involved fannish crowd, who are already past their learning stage, now must share their play space with a multitude of players still mastering the rules. Fandom is more used to contending with negative stereotypes and keeping to itself lest it draw dangerous attention from media producers than it is to coping with becoming "cool." It remains to be seen how established fandom will respond to its new status and whether new participants will adopt their outlook or challenge it (Hills forthcoming).

3. Fans 2.0: Participation versus authority

[3.1] Much as fandom is no static, monolithic body, it would be equally wrong to make this assumption of the Internet. While interactivity has always been the defining dimension of the Web, the things that constitute this interactivity—such what content is under user control and the degree of control afforded—are now considered to have been recently transformed by a new model of online participation. This model is commonly labeled Web 2.0.

[3.2] The principal idea behind Web 2.0 is that of the Internet as a platform, not a provider, of users as producers and participants, not consumers. BitTorrent, MySpace, Facebook, Wikipedia, and other such Web sites all have in common the function of enabling users to fill in their own content, presenting them not with a product, but with a framework. The Web 2.0 rhetoric speaks of Internet by and for the people; the prerequisite of programming knowledge that was necessary to build one's own Web site is no longer relevant. Tim O'Reilly, the man behind the Web 2.0 coinage, refers to the power behind the new model as "harnessing collective intelligence": not only relying on user contribution to make the bulk of the content on Web sites, but also depending on the user community to maintain itself and the popularity and viability of the Web site (O'Reilly 2007). The more a Web 2.0 site or application is used, the better it becomes.

[3.3] Web 2.0 is a decentralized, nonhierarchical model, relying on and appealing to the collective power and interest of countless users, the long tail of the curve, rather than merely to the bulk of powerful companies and advertisers. Data and applications are not rendered from above onto the people, as in the Microsoft model, but are constantly available and in constant improvement via their own users. This is hardly limited to content, but includes the applications themselves, data management, and even things that might not be appropriately considered the purview of the Net-using public, such as the aforementioned case of Wikipedia: as Lankshear and Knobel (2007) put it, information stands as true until someone overwrites it. The model assumes that all users, by their very nature as content generators, have something of value to contribute.

[3.4] In theory, the participatory logic of the Web 2.0 ethos is the same one that has been driving fandom for as long as the concept has existed. The cultural shift toward participation mentioned above has been driven forward by the technologies and attitudes that characterize this model, and has driven them in turn, as once clear-cut borders between consumers and producers are steadily eroded. Digital technologies not only make the production and sharing of content—such as home movies uploaded to YouTube or amateur music spread through file-sharing applications—easier, but similarly allow easier manipulation of existing content (Jenkins 2006). Sampling, screen-capping, and editing, media consumers transform the face of consumption and force media companies to reconsider their attitudes toward everything consumption used to mean.

[3.5] It may seem at first glance, then, that fans and fandom stand only to gain from participation culture being increasingly adopted and celebrated across the board. There is an old and strong link between the concepts of interpretive community and virtual community: Helen Merrick (2004) proposes that the forms and practices commonly associated with the latter have in fact existed in the former as far back as fandom existed at all. Historically, fandom has indeed been on the Internet almost from the moment of its conception, with fan fiction being posted to Usenet as early as 1982 (Hale 2002), before even the earliest works on convergence. The interactive, digital, and multimodal space of the Internet is in many ways ideal for fandom, enabling fans to connect across geographical distance and borders, discuss content of all sorts, and generate their own, from simple fan fiction to elaborate works of machinima and Flash vids. It may be observed, then, that the Web 2.0 model has had a profound impact on the conduct of fandom as well (Gooch 2008). If participation is the essence of fandom, then the changes brought on by the new model should be fandom's wet dream. However, as the Doctor Who fans are learning, such openness does not necessarily fit in with their conception of what fandom means. The model may supposedly thrive on a community of users, but this is a community with different rules, one much more dispersed and inclusive and seldom as committed as most communities traditionally associated with fandom. Fans have been conceived as the elite audience for reasons of their intense involvement both with the text and with each other, but there is no such prerequisite of care and devotion in the everyday, casual involvement made possible by Web 2.0's various means. If everybody is free to become a part of the community, naturally, the community will lose its distinction and its members will have less and less in common—certainly not a defined ethos that unifies them on any level.

4. Case study: A Teaspoon and an Open Mind—Background and methodology

[4.1] Established in September 2003, the A Teaspoon and an Open Mind archive offered Doctor Who fans a fandom-specific venue modeled after the vast, popular, and (some would say) infamous archive at (note 1). Authors were able to upload their stories to the archive by themselves, without intervention or assistance from the site moderators. With the series' 2005 revival, it quickly became the largest archive of online Doctor Who fan fiction, hosting over 19,000 stories by over 2,500 authors. More than its size, its chief importance lies in its popularity as the fandom's definitive archive, a central hub hosting stories of all sorts by authors of all levels of skill and investment in the text. In the polarized and contested online fandom of Doctor Who, the archive was neutral, inclusive ground.

[4.2] In the last days of December 2007, T&OM's longtime owners and moderators announced their retirement from the position and put out a call for moderating volunteers, passing archive ownership and management over to well-known writer Carmen Sandiego and a team that formed under her, whose identities remained mostly unknown to fandom at large. The transition itself went smoothly until, on January 5, the new team began implementing changes to archive policies, the biggest of which was the introduction of moderation on all submissions: stories now had to be read by the moderator team and approved before being uploaded. Instead of an instantaneous upload, a story could now take several hours to appear on the site, and could be rejected from the archive due to errors in spelling, grammar, or formatting, or for being content other than fan fiction.

[4.3] On January 4, with the changes announced but not yet implemented, MelindaKitty, a long-standing and popular author, posted a nonfiction essay in which she referred to a character as a poof, a derogatory British slang term for a homosexual. Soon after, Carmen Sandiego commented on the essay (using the site's built-in comments feature) requesting the removal of what she perceived as an offensive slur, and noting that essays were no longer allowed on the site. To this, MelindaKitty reacted by moving the essay into the fan fiction category without altering its content, only to receive a second warning. Another user, Leda, claiming to be MelindaKitty's wife, used the site's comments feature to reply to Carmen Sandiego's warnings in increasingly rude and confrontational language. On January 5, both MelindaKitty and Leda were permanently banned from the archive. As MelindaKitty was a widely popular author, this event did not remain an isolated incident, but was used by her and others as a rallying cry for writers who viewed the archive's new policies as restrictive and unacceptable.

[4.4] Soon, the incident began to send waves through Doctor Who's LiveJournal fandom, the main fannish venue of many archive participants. Participants and observers commented on the issue though much of the conversation occurred in friends lock. At the time of these events—and today—I was on the friends lists of several of the T&OM moderators and thus was privy to locked posts and discussions. Yet my ability to view them does not negate the fact that they were not meant for public viewing, and using their content in research would be a highly unethical breach of user privacy. I must also consider the possibility that my view of the case is incomplete: there may have been other friends locked posts to which I cannot gain access. Thus, I chose not to analyze and comment upon those posts; nor did I feel, in the interest of balance, it would be appropriate to include the public posts in the corpus. I do, however, wish to briefly discuss the possible implications of the acts of public and private posting themselves.

[4.5] The locking of posts—using a site feature, in this case the friends feature, to restrict the ability to access and comment on content—may itself be viewed as a form of enforcement of norms. The user who makes a locked post is literally determining the borders of the in- and out-group and who is qualified to have their voice heard; in other words, the very act of friends locking defines the fannish space as a closed and regulated one, a thing apart from the wide-open Internet and the ideal of equal-opportunity opinions. While public posts are not without their issues of power relations—it is difficult to argue equality between poster and commenter when the former's words are at a fixed point at the top of the page—they do invite participation from anyone who happens to find them, making it possible even for complete strangers and newcomers to the site to have as much of a say as any of the longtime users or the poster's close friends. Locked posts, on the other hand, mean that any discussion is held only within the community of informed users who have in some way proven their participatory competence. In this case, I might argue that the purpose was the specific avoidance of any encounter with such uninformed players, both because these posts had chronicled the posters' personal reactions to stressful events and because—as we shall see—fans on the opposite side of the debate were viewed as disruptive and prone to misconduct. Additionally, friends locking the posts allowed the posters to speak freely without risking any breach of norms of proper behavior in the eyes of the greater community, placing their restrained and regulated conduct opposite the public outcry of their detractors.

[4.6] What I wish to analyze, instead, is what was probably the main event of the "Teaspoon kerfuffle," which took place roughly two weeks after the initial incident. On January 19, T&OM writer Nenya established the blog she called fighting_spoon. This blog was not under friends lock; its proclaimed purpose was to offer Nenya's claims against the archive moderators and invite other users to react to them. The discussion in this forum happened over four days, the last comments coming in on the 23rd. Of the total of 202 comments made to 4 posts, 91 were from anonymous users, 88 were made by 11 logged-in LJ users, and the remaining 23 were made by 4 people who signed by name only. Fighting_spoon became the arena in which both sides left their private blogs and actually came out to respond to each other's claims. In best Internet tradition, the discussion began with resistance and mutual creative insults, but soon posters were shaping agenda and arguing at greater length, presenting their views and backing them up with a variety of arguments.

[4.7] Of course, the great number of anonymous or name-only comments in the community raises its own set of methodological problems, with which all online research grapples. For one, beyond the 15 who identified themselves by name or user name, I have no real ability to tell how many people were involved in the discussion, nor which anonymous comments might have been made by the same user. The various personal blog posts I've mentioned above and the comments made on them help with this somewhat: all signed, they give a clear sense that even if only a few people were active in the debate itself, a great many more were watching from the sidelines and expressing support of one position or another. I also attempted to single out stylistic features and self-positioning declarations that gave me some idea, if not of a commenter's identity, then of their fandom background. Still, these are only partial means. The problem of fannish groups closing up their discussions and engaging each other only under the safety of anonymity may be viewed as proceeding naturally from the character of online fandom, as subcommunities are able to isolate themselves and control the terms of their engagement with those outside the group. As such, the main focus of my analysis was not the users and their actual identities, the study of which was limited, but the text itself, and how those users presented their identity and played it out through discourse.

[4.8] Approaching fighting_spoon, my interest was twofold: in the ideas that each side expressed regarding fandom and how it should look and work, and in the ways in which these ideas were formulated. The rhetoric used, I believe, is as essential to the understanding of the conflict as the worldviews it conveys. The conflict at its core is about standards of writing, about what deserves and does not deserve to be published, and about what is appropriate or inappropriate for publishing in a fannish context. It is thus interesting to observe the different approaches to the use of language in discussion—the adherence to codes both on the microlevel, such as spelling and grammar, and on the macrolevel, of the construction of arguments. Stylistically, I was also interested in levels of formality displayed by the users on both sides, theorizing that the more norm-oriented T&OM supporters would use fewer swear words, fewer attitude markers such as exclamation marks, fewer emoticons and less Net speak, and fewer rhetorical devices such as loaded words and sarcasm. I did not, however, expect to see a difference in the degree to which fannish slang and terminology were used, reasoning that both sides were aiming to show cultural competence in the struggle to determine whose way is the right way for the culture to go. The arena for stylistic analysis that yielded the most interesting results was the appeals made by both groups for the validity of their claims, on which they justified their understanding of how fandom works and their right to define its nature.

[4.9] My theme-oriented analysis focused on the use and construction of key terms within the theory that has been outlined in previous sections. I considered how participants posed and related to issues of community, content, rights of self-expression, gatekeeping, and fannish norms, as well as any reference to the conflict between the ideals of participation and classic fandom. I read to discover what community meant to both sides, what they described as legitimate and illegitimate content, to whom they granted the right of gatekeeping, and how all these things came together to define what fandom was to them. Where possible, I also attempted to pry out markers of fannish identity, particularly as they relate to veteran versus new fans, and the value placed upon such identities. Of course, I have no way to know if the commenter claiming years of experience indeed has them, but the statements themselves may be used to demonstrate the importance (or lack thereof) placed on such things by both sides in the discussion. In this same vein, I looked at how each of the groups constructed and worked to delegitimize the other's claims to authority and deciding power, and the personal and group characteristics they found undesirable. It may be seen, then, that the categories for analysis were drawn from the key concepts and issues that formulate the theory of conflict in evolving online fandom. I shall now attempt to use the resulting analysis to demonstrate the workings of these concepts and issues within the case studied.

5. The fighting_spoon discourse

[5.1] Reading fighting_spoon from a content- and style-oriented point of view reveals the clash of two particular discourses, each of them based around a model of how a fannish community should ideally look and work in relation to questions of content, gatekeeping, who is a valued community member, and who should hold a position of authority. These discourses operate on the levels of ideology and rhetoric, both of which I will now present.

[5.2] The model offered by the T&OM critics relies on the discourse of democracy and of participation, constructing online fandom as an open opportunity space. In their view, not only is the ability to write fan fiction a basic right, but so is the ability to post it—a right that is not preconditioned by anything and should not be subject to any limitation. While they acknowledge that content can be, to use their term, objectionable, they propose that such content should not be banned but posted and discussed, and that readers also have a right to ignore what they disapprove of. Even while claiming to understand the need for some standards, they stress that "just fan fiction," as opposed to professional publishing, should be fun and thus unrestricted. As MelindaKitty sums up her fannish position: "I believe that all writers must start somewhere. If you don't like what they write, don't read it. That's your right. Just posting a story is a major accomplishment for some…Comparing Teaspoon to a private publishing house is laughable. It's fanfiction. We don't own any of the characters, rights, or canon. We make no money. We sell no product" (

[5.3] Another feature of this free, open space is the idea that everyone should have a voice in the running of the archive, with many commenters complaining that the moderators had been uncommunicative, that they should hold polls or consult with the archive's writers before deciding on or implementing policies, and in one case, even that they should be democratically elected. Stylistically, the terminology used also echoes this discourse: users talk about a public arena, of the Internet as the "greatest democracy there is," and of online fandom activity based not on rules but on good faith. There are many mentions of rights, and many references to free speech, once even citing the First Amendment. At the same time, these commenters are also far likelier to ask for or encourage discussion, addressing the need to talk. While this may be viewed as the one tactic open to them as opposed to the site moderators, it may also support the view of a community space based on openness and equality.

[5.4] Fandom is viewed by the anti-T&OM users as not only a democratic space, but a didactic one as well. According to these comments, since fan fiction writers needn't be held up to standards but should be encouraged to self-express in any way, fannish spaces should ideally function as safe places where young and inexperienced writers can learn their craft by doing. It is interesting to see how the argument, in both content and style, is reminiscent of Thomas's and Jenkins's above-mentioned papers about young people's involvement in online fan writing. The turns of phrase the anti-T&OM commenters use are not unlike those of fans interviewed by Thomas or Jenkins. Writes one fan,

[5.5] I want to make sure others have a life INSIDE Teaspoon. It was a fantastic community. Many authors build their spare time around it. For someone less resilient, being banned from or rejected by such a community could put them off writing forever.

[5.6] That would be inexcusable. Fanfiction is about testing boundaries, making believe, and having fun with characters we all know and love. (

[5.7] Writes another:

[5.8] Why have up [sic] become so much more picker [sic] on content and content representation?

[5.9] If a reader doesn't like it, they have the choice not to read it. Those who do want to read and will give us important input on improving. Isn't the point of reviewing and commenting to improve and gain help from our fellow fans on our writing? So shouldn't they be telling us how to improve, not you by limiting us? (

[5.10] Opposite that, the pro-T&OM comments offer a model of fandom relying on a different discourse: not of democracy, which they dismiss as irrelevant, but of free enterprise. They argue that a fan fiction archive exists apart from any community that might form among its users and has no duty to it, and that those who pay for the server space and volunteer their time and effort to maintain and manage the site should be able to run it as they see fit and filter any content they deem inappropriate. Frequent expressions of gratitude to the moderators for their hard work, and assertions that any unhappy T&OM users can and should respond simply by opening their own archives, point to a view of fandom not as a content-based space where a community of users runs itself, but as relying on the organization of members who create private spaces and top-down frameworks: "The site isn't a democracy. Are you paying for it? Did you contribute to set-up costs? Have you been running it in your freetime over the past five years? Nope, don't think so. No-one forces anyone to use it. You don't like how it's run? Tough luck" (

[5.11] Fan creation, as these users view it, does not automatically command respect by its very nature, and they do not speak of it as having inherent value, whether creative or didactic. Moderators are not only permitted to practice quality control, but also encouraged to do it by commenters who complain of the lack of standards in fan fiction. To these users, rather than being an open space, fandom also has rules that must be followed in order to participate properly—in this case, rules of language as well as rules of personal conduct.

[5.12] I'm delighted that summaries and submissions are being moderated—it's not just a matter of proper spelling and grammar, but it's also a question of what counts as a story. Is a self-insert where the author "appears" in the TARDIS and yells at the Doctor, or shags Jack, a story? Why should a summary be half a screen long? And as for authors who state in their summary that they don't care about spelling and grammar and "just judge the story," if they can't be bothered then why should I? (

[5.13] Another aspect of this is the pro-moderator construction of the situation as one in which a lone malcontent or clique was banned for misconduct rather than difference of opinion. Arguments against the anti-T&OM faction repeatedly cite the documented instances of personal attacks on Carmen Sandiego, and often accuse the author of posing as multiple people to give the appearance of a larger unhappy crowd. These users have a clear idea of what construes norms and misbehavior in an online fannish environment, and they often stress the importance of norms, as opposed to MelindaKitty's attempts to turn the discussion to posting policy.

[5.14] A key term that repeats many times in the discourse of these users is false entitlement. T&OM's defenders use this term to reject any claim to an equal say in archive management, stressing, often in a vitriolic and confrontational tone, the point that being producers of content does not make writers automatically entitled to a place to put up any sort of content they wish. The stylistic flavoring of the pro-T&OM arguments and the discourse they rely on are defined by the frequent use of the term, as well as references to the archive as private, payment for Web space, and the unpaid work of Web site moderators. Some of these users even use the term private enterprise to define their fannish outlook in the debate itself. "If you want to have the right to boss the mods around, you could pay them. Otherwise, you're really just not entitled to any say in archive policy. That's not fascism, it's the nature of private enterprise" (

[5.15] Aside from this use of the terminology and style of arguing, I had expected to find linguistic elements that correspond to the two groups' positions regarding norms and standards: this expectation was only partially fulfilled. With a few exceptions—all signed-in posters on the T&OM critics' side, community founder Nenya among them—users on both sides display the use of correct spelling and grammar, as well as properly structured sentences and paragraphs. The main difference of style was in tone of argument: while the archive supporters' tone is occasionally vitriolic, their expressions remain ones of restrained sarcasm and mockery, expressing their outrage without caps lock, exclamation marks, or even swear words. Their tone, for the most part, is factual and straightforward. The T&OM critics, on the other hand, show a more informal, emotional tone, including the use of harsh language, exclamation marks, and capslock and emotes (the use of descriptives surrounded by asterisks to mean actions performed, such as *hugs* or *offers hand*). As anticipated, little difference was found in the use of fannish terms and slang. While different than what I expected, these findings do show a looser attitude toward language use and a greater emphasis on informal communication on the side of the anti-T&OM faction. Perhaps the fact that this was not linked to a lesser grasp of language indicates that this use is a matter of choice rather than a side effect of reduced competence.

[5.16] Perhaps the most interesting stylistic find, however, and the one that might go furthest in supporting the theory, is the ways in which each side framed its claims as relevant, what each of them claimed as the source of their authority on fannish matters. In the discourse of the T&OM detractors, the appeal was made to community, to what MelindaKitty calls her fellow fans. Her posts and others' make many references to the friends they have acquired in the archive, to its fun communal atmosphere, and claim to be fighting for T&OM, essentially constructing the changes to the Web site as a hostile takeover of a community hub. This attitude further reveals itself in a readiness to speak in the first person plural; comments on this side of the discussion often use "we"—as in the "we writers" in whose name Nenya claims to speak in her opening post—and refer to the experience of other archive users, something the opposing side rarely if ever does. Another feature of this style is the frequent use of appeals, both to unknown readers who might be following the discussion without speaking up and to commenters on the other side of the arguments. Devices such as pleading with the readers to ask themselves if this is "the Teaspoon you joined," rhetorical questions, and Nenya's invitation to users to "talk to me" all seek to include all participants in the discussion, whether commenters or lurkers, as part of the community that is being attacked.

[5.17] In this view, community is blatantly opposed to authority: from reading these users' arguments, one would hardly guess that the moderators are all fans and fan fiction writers themselves, members of the same community whose privilege is restricted entirely to the archive. Thus the opposing side is delegitimized not simply as a minority, but as outsiders who have no such sense of community, and are not authorized to speak for it, much less run it. In contrast, those who argue against this takeover repeatedly affirm their connection and devotion to the site and to the fandom, even while lamenting specific developments. One user writes: "It makes me want to tear my hair out, but I am leery of openly complaining. I have so many lovely reviews and comments, and so much history there, I'd hate to lose it all…but it's getting harder and harder for people to stay on the right side of the mods" (

[5.18] However, the supporters of T&OM's policy speak from an authoritative position of experience, speaking as senior members who understand how fandom works. Users on this side tend to cite their experience in other fandoms, with other archives, to demonstrate that the T&OM situation is normal, indeed lenient as compared to other archives. Many comments express amazement at 12 to 14 hours being considered a long waiting period, offering tales of archives that have much stricter rules and may take days and weeks to update sites and occasionally noting that T&OM's users should be grateful that stories are uploaded as quickly as they are. Not only this, but several such comments also bring up their experience with similar fandom kerfuffles, giving the impression that they have seen too many to take them seriously. See for example this anonymous comment: "Maybe you missed the gigantic furore a few years back when banned NC-17 fic and songfic and a bunch of users got TOSed. People had much the same tantrums as you're having now. Archives change their rules. That's life" (

[5.19] Not only are rule changes standard things, says this user, but "that's life," the unavoidable reality of fandom that is self-evident to those who have experience within it. While the anonymity of the discussion prevents us from learning whether the commenters presenting such arguments truly are veteran fans, such reliance on fandom familiarity combined with degrading references to the age of the complainers ("because you're three years old and cannot live without instant gratification," or more tellingly, "teenagers who can't write to save their lives") indicate that they consider such experience a source of authority and cultural capital. The condescending tone shared by this and other similar posts, as well as the frequent references to the real lives of the moderators—lives that presumably consist of jobs, studies, and families, things of the adult world—all point to the importance that these commenters place on maturity and adult conduct, if not adult status. "They probably have lives/are in different time zones/have better things to do. I've been in fandoms where archives could go weeks between updates" (

[5.20] While the image presented by these various discursive features is highly polarized, it must be remembered that it arises from the analysis of what was, essentially, a fight and not a search for compromise. Attitudes on both sides are no doubt much more nuanced, both in themselves and in the differences between individual participants; for the moment, fighting_spoon paints a broad-stroke image of the issues and end positions involved in the conflict.

6. Conclusions

[6.1] Both the arguments they make and the style in which they make them indicate that the T&OM critics have Web-shaped views of how fandom ought to look: community as shaped by content and the ability to share it freely, regardless of quality, because by definition, all content is good. (The Web 2.0 model of fan fiction, as it were.) Essentially, the anti-T&OM faction in fighting_spoon wishes only for what it has grown used to receiving from the Internet: an open archive, community-run and without enforced standards. The virtual spaces of fandom in this conception are all common spaces, regardless of who provides and runs them. Rather than owners or moderators, archives and lists have maintainers, who are expected to provide only the framework. In the debate reviewed, these fans display a great deal of confidence in the ability of the community to moderate itself; in their view, all the archive's users are qualified to comment on its policies, and they reject the idea of the archivist's right to control site content even when this is repeatedly pointed out to be a norm in fandom.

[6.2] T&OM's supporters, on the other hand, not only reject this attitude wholesale, but also view the opposite group's behavior and attitude as a breach of an existing fan community ethos that does have and does stress a code of conduct. Unlike the claim for fandom as a free space without hierarchies, they emphasize the (thankless) voluntary nature of the moderator's work and the upholding of some standards even when these constrain self-expression. A community, as such, is built up on norms, not rights. It is easy—perhaps deceptively so—to recognize how such a view would be formed in a marginalized community, working through interpersonal connections and word of mouth, much as fandom had been before it was revolutionized by the Internet. In such a setup, it would make sense for voluntary work, vital for the community's survival, to be awarded respect and status; in the age of print-copied fanzines and conventions organized by unpaid volunteers, moderators or their equivalents were very much necessary, and one risked a great deal more by breaching rules of conduct than a banning from one fan fiction archive among many.

[6.3] As noted, many of the T&OM critics' arguments seem to be lifted from recent studies on young people's new fan communities online, but they may seem familiar even to those who don't read academic papers—a similar rhetoric is often used by fans to justify their position as opposed to the original creators of media text. The right to self-expression—the idea that everyone is entitled to have a creative go at popular texts, by dint of their very popularity—has long been a staple argument of fan fiction authors. As opposed to an establishment often viewed as oppressive, hoarding its textual goods, fandom constructs itself as a subversive free space that poses no limits on textual play, where readers and writers are not simply equal in status, but the lines between them are blurred to invisible. Its communal nature is held up as one of fandom's great strengths and the appropriate answer to a system in which texts are treated as products in the hierarchical logic of capitalism. As the broad acceptance of the textual poaching terminology might tell us, fandom is quite willing to revel in and even uphold as an ideal its own lawlessness.

[6.4] Yet when used not from fans to major companies but from fans to fans, this rhetoric of freedom from rules meets a great deal of resistance, and even scorn, as its proponents are accused of a false sense of entitlement and bluntly told that they have no innate right to freedom in every fannish space. The T&OM's supporters' use of arguments regarding property rights, associated more with copyright holders' side of the fandom discussion, completely turns things over. As one commenter says: "So you claim the right to free speech despite the fact that you are working with copyright materials that you have not obtained permission or rights to use…but the mods of Teaspoon do not have the right of a publisher to reject work because they have not obtained permission or rights? That's rather hypocritical" (

[6.5] The application and outcome of this logic are, of course, different: the fans' actual right to write is in this discussion an axiom, not put to question. Both sides in the debate are, after all, in the business of fan fiction. Still, the owners of the archive are granted a position of gatekeeping that is denied the owners of the copyright. Some participants, as in an extract quoted above, go so far as to grant them the right to decide what counts as a story, what falls within the purview of good, acceptable fan work and what does not—a right that fans vehemently deny commercial bodies (see, for example, the case of Warner Bros. and Harry Potter fandom, in Jenkins 2006).

[6.6] Perhaps this is a sign of double standards within fandom, and then perhaps this demonstrates how a community based on an ambiguous relationship with laws and rules keeps itself from degenerating into anarchy. The power relations between the BBC and Doctor Who's fans and between the T&OM moderators and the archive's authors and readership are nothing alike, of course: on such a level playing field, the fans have no one to defend their rights but their fellows in the community itself, no laws to fall back on but self-regulated norms, nor can they hope to enjoy a reward for their work beyond communal recognition. As volunteers spending their own time and money, the T&OM moderators are no media conglomerate in a cold, strictly business relationship with media consumers, but work out of goodwill and thus are more entitled to receive goodwill in turn. Possibly a simple in-group bias is at work: it is certainly much easier to identify with the interests of a fellow fan than with those of the media company that might present a danger to fandom as a whole. But possibly, in order to preserve the cohesive and inclusive nature that allows it to function as a subculture constantly justifying its own existence, it becomes necessary for fandom to adopt this extra-careful discourse concerning the ownership rights and private space of individual members. This is similar to the different attitudes toward plagiarism in fandom: lifting paragraphs wholesale from the original text is merely dismissed as lazy writing, while doing the same from another fan author's story usually results in widespread shunning (Hale 2002). Either way, this problematizes the now-popular image of fandom as an open space of learning as opposed to a space of commercial restriction, and even more so, its position opposite the cultural shift toward participation.

[6.7] On a concluding note: although A Teaspoon and an Open Mind did not change any of its policies as a result of the fighting_spoon incident, and despite several attempts to create alternate archives to serve as community hubs, the site continues to thrive and its popularity remains undiminished. Whether this is in spite of or because of its policies is hard to determine; the very fact of the conflict remains to illustrate the complicated shift that online fandom is undergoing, along with the medium within which it works.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] A previous version of this article was originally part of work for the course "Internet and Popular Culture," taught by Dr. Limor Shifman, whose help and input have been invaluable. I would also like to thank Dr. Matt Hills for his interest and comments.

8. Note

1. As a large multifandom archive that only rarely serves as the main fan fiction repository of a fandom, is perhaps not the best comparison to make; however, it is the prevalent one made by participants in the discussion that I study, which I felt was telling.

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