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I’ve been meaning to write something about SHADOW UNIT for absolutely ages — about SHADOW UNIT itself, but also about the attitude expressed in the following comment found in a BoingBoing thread about SHADOW UNIT:

Instead of reading/watching something awesome and fanning over it, we see the fandom first. The fandom then defines and expresses the original material it’s about–the show that doesn’t actually exist.

The origin of SHADOW UNIT is in Elizabeth Bear encouraging a few friends to produce fan fiction "to reconnect with writing for pleasure," and Emma Bull winding up generating a whole new tv show idea, getting her friends involved and forming a writing staff for a notional tv show that doesn’t actually exist. They write the "episodes" as long short stories, structure them as seasons and run them on (The site isn’t resolving properly for me tonight, I hope it is for you.)

I want to get to "notional tv shows" later in the week. But something about that quote, from that anonymous BB commenter, still bugs me, 18 months after I first read it. Possibly the use of the word "fanning." Possibly the slightly possessive tone of the quote. Possibly the sense of approval, communicating the idea that the commenter feels this to be, finally, the right way around. That the fandom gets to define the material. The sort of entitlement that leads to JK Rowling firebombing your house. I’m probably reading too much into it.

Anyway. Go and look at SHADOW UNIT, they’ve got new stuff up.

Published in brainjuice


  1. As someone who makes stuff, yeah, that sticks in my craw. Though, there’s some truth to it, I think. In a lot of ways the fandom defines a work _to the uninitiated_. If you haven’t read/experienced something, pretty much all you have to go on is the actions of those who have.

    Obviously, this is no way to go through life, but I see it all the time.

  2. There is a certain parallel between this process and the one of adapting a play for stage, or a book for cinema. Many modifications to the source are made because the medium changes, but the most are made because the fandom has certain expectations.

    This works great when it comes to entertainment. I don’t think it works that good for artists – maybe letting other people define your work it’s not the best idea around.

    But for entertainment, I guess it works. I mean, adults, being adults, pretty much know what makes them laugh or cry, and what’s fun, and what’s entertaining. Surprises are really frown upon. So being able to directly define the material is a great thing. You don’t waste time anymore.

  3. Mike Litos Mike Litos

    This reminds me a lot of a wiki project that Penny Arcade did a few years ago called “Epic Legends of the Hierarchs: The Elmenstor Saga”, or more commonly, “ELotH:TES”.

    This wiki documents in extreme detail an entire fictitious franchise (from novels to spin-off cartoons) centered around a nonexistent series of pulp fantasy books that originated as an ongoing gag in the Penny Arcade comic strips.

    Of course it was all done completely in parody, but I think it is an incredible example of what can be accomplished by the collective effort of the fanbase along the lines of your “SHADOW UNIT” model. If you haven’t checked this out before, I think you’d find it fascinating and well worth your time.

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