Free and Free By-products

“Here is a simple fact: it is a better time to be an artist than any other time in history. Whether you are a writer or a painter or a musician or a filmmaker, you were born at a lucky time. Thanks to the Internet, global distribution and organization is now available to everyone.” ~ Joseph Fink, co-creator of Welcome To Night Vale

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What does it mean to give your work away? To encourage your supporters to make and give their work away? What sustains the work in these kinds of networks, and what does it mean for education (especially the kind that is presumably meant to equip people with skills for work)? What does “work” even mean anymore?

Big Questions, Night Vale. Big. Questions.

To address some of these big questions, I’d like to think through (with you) how a free podcast that welcomes and solicits fanworks as part of its creative ethos sustains itself. Within that fan community, I’d like to look specifically at how a fiction/fanart exchange might generate interest and extend both the fictional and online communities. Along the way, I’d like us to consider together what fanworks and fan exchanges might offer to conversations about multimodal composition, fair use, and 21st Century literacies.

Though my argument is still in its formative stages, I’m especially wondering about whether the multimedia skills that are often touted as job skills might be approached more productively as community skills. Online communities offer a stage to display a wide range of talents and abilities to an appreciative audience, and in turn, they encourage the uptake of skills and habits necessary to create and share on that stage.

This reciprocal process blurs the lines between audience, creator, performer, and performance, creating a new kind of consumer culture that thrives on the opportunity to participate in its own creation, to pursue its own education, and to produce its own entertainment largely outside of monetary systems. All of this work takes place around shared narratives, so an attendant question might be: does giving your work away and inviting people to transform and remix it create a more durable community? By creating a more durable community, do you increase your chances of sustaining yourself by your art?

If you want to know more about Welcome to Night Vale before we talk about it at WIDE-EMU, check out my storify collection:

Transformative Times

I discovered the internet in 2003. Oh, I used it before then. I got my first email address in 1992, and I routinely checked  my email, sent emails, paid bills, and checked my bank account. That process took about 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. I was away at college, but none of my family had email accounts (or even computers), so most of the emails I received were from the university. Professors didn’t even use email very much at first, so if I went a week without checking, it wasn’t really a big deal.

I joined facebook and twitter on Nov 4, 2007. My first tweet was about my new cat and the fourth was about conning my little sister into getting an account. I didn’t post anything to facebook until June 2008. I had hated myspace and was not sure what to think, so I spent some time watching this new platform. I still don’t know what to think of it. It is equal parts useful and irritating, and I continue to use it for the simple reason that it liberates me from having to make phone calls, which I have always detested. (Long Live Texting!)

So what did I do online in those four intervening years? I made multiple blogs and online journals on different platforms (myspace, livejournal, blogspot), trying to find a space that fit; I followed fansites and discovered fanfiction and fanart. I read and followed my friend’s monthly article in austinmama. I discovered lots of crazy-smart and wildly creative (mostly) women making things that were relevant to my interests. I lurked, for the most part, and my capacity for spending time on the internet expanded greatly.

My interest in digital rhetoric revolves around online communities of interest. Why do people join? How do they find them? How long do they stay in? What causes someone to step across the “lurker” threshold and into the digital participation space? How much do online affiliations contribute to a sense of identity and purpose?

Digital artists are constantly pushing boundaries, and many of these communities transform pop culture moments into critical, social, or humorous commentary. How can we safeguard the “makers” while maintaining an artist’s right to remuneration? Will online platforms end/alter copyright as we know it?

As an example of the ridiculous end of the copyright arguments going on, I’d like to present the marvelous “Buffy vs Edward” vid:

and the aggressive attempt by Lionsgate to protect their “intellectual property” (That would be Twilight, y’all. Some people’s intellectual property is other people’s… yeah, I’ll let you fill that in for yourself.) by harassing the maker of the vid, taking down his work, posting unwanted ads, and constraining his ability to post to youtube.

On a more serious note, there is the sad untimely death of Aaron Swartz, who has been hounded in the courts for the last two years for… well, it’s complicated, but depending on how you look at it, for crusading for freedom of access to information or for downloading millions of articles from JSTOR. (Articles which JSTOR later made publicly available.)

In all these conversations, the metaphors of space, boundaries, and property are being applied to ideas, text, and images, either explicitly or implicitly.  Capitalism rests on the sanctity of property. Will the internet?

ETA: The New Yorker’s piece: “How the Legal System Failed Aaron Swartz