I have been a part of on-line fandom for ten years now. It was some time in the summer after Season 2 of BtVS that I was lured out to teh internets in search of spoilers that would reassure me that Angel was not stuck in hell forever, but would return. Being new to online fandom, I naturally went to the Official Place for Buffy fans, namely, the Bronze Posting Board. I lurked there for several months, reading posts but not writing any until, some time in the Fall, I began to see a small group of women on the board touting their new Bronze club, Faith and Buffy in ’99. I was not any kind of ‘shipper, but the fact that they were so open about their search for lesbian subtext impressed me and I was lured out of lurkdom. My new friends and I discussed various bits of subtext in the episodes. At no point, that I recall, did I ever read fanfic about it. I think I knew, peripherally, that some people were doing that, but people did all sorts of interesting fannish things at the Bronze, including, apparently, writing fictional extensions of the Buffyverse.
For me, being a fan was about discussing the show: what we thought of the characters, what we thought of the plot developments, what we thought was going to happen, how the show resonated with other aspects of our lives. One of the things I personally enjoyed was searching for nods to various philosophical ideas, for example, the contextuality of knowledge, which appeared in a debate between Giles and Jenny Calendar in I Robot, You Jane.
Some of my F&Bin’99 friends encouraged me to create a webpage where I could make a list of all the philosophical references that I found. So on January 1st, 1999, All Things Philosophical on BtVS was born. And it soon became more than one page as Joss and company continued to produce deeply intelligent television.
I continued as a regular at the Bronze posting board for another year and a half, and occasionally got emails in response to my website. Some of those folks urged me to create a board where they could meet and talk to other visitors to my site, so, on June 14th, 2000, I created the first version of the ATPo board. The whole point of the board was discussion: sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes serious, sometimes silly, sometimes paragraphs, sometimes essays, but for the people who came to the board, sharing thoughts was the shared experience of fandom. ATPo included folks from all over the world, males and females, teenagers and 60-somethings. If any ATPoers wrote fanfic, I wasn’t especially aware of it. I think our first foray into fanfic as a group was in the summer after Season 5. And we only did it because we were bored and there were no new episodes to talk about.
Now, let me be clear here: I am not dissing fanfic. I am not implying it is somehow lesser than discussion. But seeing as it’s the eighth anniversary of the board, and I wanted to commemorate that, I thought it apropos to talk about what made the board special. And one thing that has struck me since I left the sheltered confines of the ATPo board to venture into fandom at large on Live Journal is that in the larger culture of fandom, fanfic seems synonymous with fandom, an assumption that was odd and alien to me when I first joined LJ, and continues to strike me as odd when I come across it on my flist.
In fact, sometimes it seems (and I may be way off-base here, I’ll admit) that fandom culture at large considers discussion lesser than fanfic, or, at least, a secondary pursuit at best. One thing that implies this is the use of the word “meta” to describe discussion-starters written by fans on Live Journal, whether they be one-paragraph thoughts or long posts. “Meta” means, among other things, “beyond, behind, in addition to,” in other words, “besides all the regular stuff we do, there’s that *ohbythewayanalysis* stuff.”* And people who write “meta” posts usually make a point of saying explicitly, “Oh hey, I’m doing meta,” as if that’s something unusual to do.
Which it may be, for you. In the fandom land I first ventured forth from, so-called “meta” was the whole point. Which is why I love, and continue to love, my ATPo. It’s not just about the friends I’ve made over the past eight years who are Truly Awesome People, it’s about having a subculture of fandom that approaches fandom the same way I do.