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Just Past the Horizon: The male space is just better hidden

by  in Comic News Comment

So Scans_Daily has finally been shut down by livejournal. The usual hand wringing when a livejournal community gets suspended is going on, and there are places in the conversation where I see the feminine space versus masculine space argument creep in. I’m always interested in that argument, but I can’t really agree with the idea that Scans_Daily was deleted because it was feminine space. It wasn’t shut down because it was a girl community. It was shut down because it was a soft piracy community hosted by a panicky social networking website.

I’m not blind, I’ve seen the split in superhero fandom. I’ve seen how female fans tend to flock to fanfiction and underground communities while male fans center around message boards and creator websites. I know that there are a lot of comic book stores women just feel uncomfortable in, and that there are precious few in-person female-friendly shops out there. Many of us go through bookstores and mail-order, or the tried and true method of looking away from the Greg Horn covers when you enter the store. I know full well that some conventions are shitty places to be female. I’m not denying any of this.

I understand that there is precious little female space out there, and I understand that Scans_Daily was a community that began with a very female vibe as stated here:

A friend (in a private post) grumbled today about the dismissive attitude of certain commenters (”oh well, it was full of bitching and slash anyway”), declaring that reaction to be part of a broader discomfort that many male fans have with the feminine form of fandom. In response, she more or less said “a man in S_D feels like a woman in a comic shop.”

[Edited to add: I should clarify that the comments below use S_D as a jumping-off point for a broader discussion — I admit I haven’t visited the community in at least a year, and I can’t defend or attack whatever it may have become recently, or the reasons for its removal.]

I remember being pretty shocked at the culture of S_D when I first discovered it years ago. It was a thriving community of fans interacting with superhero comics in an entirely different manner than I was used to. But it didn’t feel like “this is how they do it on the internet,” it felt like “this is how they do it when women are in charge.” I soon decided that superhero-comics-fandom (as represented by S_D) was a subset of fandom as a broader entity — that these folks were performing more or less the exact same practices (fanfiction, slash, icon design, roleplay, claiming) on Green Lantern that were being performed on Harry Potter and Stargate Atlantis and every other entertainment property in the world, to some degree.

(I also understand that Leigh’s post, as in the editor’s note, was not specifically on Scans_Daily right now but on Scans_Daily back then and male versus female space, that’s why I’m addressing this here and not in his comments.)

Now, putting aside the fact that in recent years this community had become the female-dominated equivalent of the Official DC Forums–full of griping and misery and hatred and nasty things said about the parentage of writers–there’s a factor much more prevalent than demographics. There’s the ongoing internet copyright legal fight.

I’m seeing a lot of denial among Scans_Daily defenders. A lot of people who think that what they were doing wasn’t the same as the guys on Pirate Bay because the files weren’t loaded to their own computers. And that little bit of nitpicking is really annoying me. Yes, personally I found the community harmless to the industry but this “we’re better than the file-sharers, we were actually doing marketing’s job for them” argument is bullshit. Everyone with a sense of sanity knew this community would get in trouble if the companies ever got a good look at it. This is the one that stretched the fair use law to the limit. That’s the one where posters routinely broke the limit on how much of a story they were supposed to scan and nobody mentioned it. That’s the one where a story was assembled across several posts. That’s the one that people cited whenever I asked how they knew what was happening in a book they were boycotting. You can easily find many bloggers linking there with “Now I won’t give Dan Didio any of my money but look what his writers did to Kyle Rayner” in their rants.

I know copyright law is a huge debate in female fandom, but I’d be far more sympathetic to the “we’re helping sell more books” argument if were it a large fanfiction and fanart site that got taken down rather than the internet equivalent of reading the books in the comic book store and then putting them back on the shelf.

Sure, it wasn’t a download site. There weren’t any torrents passed. There were rules against posting the whole book (that were stretched to the limit). But it was Piracy Lite. It was where people went when they didn’t know how to find the real internet pirate market and didn’t want to leave the safety of livejournal. It was for people who knew a full torrents were illegal but still wanted to catch the books for free. People without the intestinal fortitude for actual piracy. Now I can’t speak for the rest of Robot 6, but I’m personally not going to judge someone who passes a file or two anymore than I’m going to judge a jaywalker or someone who walks home with a box of pens from the office supply cabinet. (But if you go to the struggling local comic book store each week, scan the titles on the wall but buy nothing because you download the ones you want from your $60 a month broadband internet connection, I will judge you harshly.) But don’t go and argue that ten pages in one post with commentary explaining the continuity behind the story and ten pages in the next post with commentary explaining the continuity behind the story falls under fair use for critical writing or parody. We all know the opinions of “This plot idea sucks” or “You should totally read this miniseries” don’t usually need 50% of the artwork reproduced to support them (the movie clips you see on movie reviewer shows are less than 5% of the actual movie, and they tend to support them fine). I know there were full scenes scanned and issues spoiled in order to legitimately argue someone acted out of character or a creator had set something up in a horrible manner, and I know there were a lot of “OMG this scene is so cool you must buy and support this SERIES!!!” posts (one of those posts got me to pick up Manhunter) but that doesn’t change the fact that no one made a peep when the point of the post was just to catch you up to date by reproducing the product so you wouldn’t actually have to buy the book.

Scans Daily may have gotten some people back into comics, and good for them. And Scans_Daily may have allowed people a look at classic books that they wouldn’t otherwise see, and good for them there. (If I may point out, illegal file-sharing sites also let you look at out of print books. Doesn’t make them less illegal, unfortunately.) But the more vocal of the community’s link referrals seemed to be from the refuse-to-pay-but-can’t-look-away variety. The majority of comics criticism is negative, after all, and Scans_Daily was an easy place to link the negative criticisms in and explain why someone who hated the book knew so intimately what was happening between the covers. And this wasn’t just outside community, this was in the comments. This was in the member’s livejournals. “I’m boycotting DC because they killed my favorite character, but can you believe they did THIS?” “I wouldn’t let a penny go to Brian Michael Bendis, but you’ll never believe where he’s taking the Avengers NOW…” Yeah, the community was diverse–the linkers, the lurkers, the posters and the commenters all came from different attitudes with different goals–but you have to accept that people on the dark side of Scans Daily–the pirates-in-denial–were present and in many cases they were the ones dominating the discussion. The entire concern was in a murky legal space, and a murky moral space. It’s easy to see where Livejournal got a bit worried.

And yes, we all know this is not the only place that did this we’re-not-actually-pirates thing. We all know this is not the worst place that did it. But this was on Livejournal, owned by a company that is trying desperately to turn a community of female fans into revenue generators for advertising dollars without getting sued by anybody. This was linked to by bloggers and message boarders to explain what they were complaining about in a book they refused to buy. This community was the site of many creator-fan fights.

That’s not a masculine-feminine distinction. That’s a “Hey, we’re the most open group on the internet doing this” distinction.

The reason for such a backlash against the community defenders from retailer-types is not because of the gender of the defenders, but because so many of them seem to be in severe denial about just what they were actually doing on this site. It was reproducing the most important parts of a copyrighted product, and doing so on a site that gained money through advertising revenue. It doesn’t matter that it was fun, that you liked each other, that good communities are hard to fin, and that many of you went out and bought the stuff. A lot of your fellow community goers were “sticking it to the Man”, and bragging about not buying the books but still knowing what was going on. This entire “we weren’t a download site” argument is like saying “oral sex doesn’t count towards losing your virginity.” Wussy pirates are still pirates.

There’s some pride, perhaps, in the visibility Scans_Daily had in a subculture where women are mostly invisible, but that doesn’t really help keep Marvel’s Mighty Lawyers away from Livejournal, does it?

That said, I do think that if Scans_Daily were a male dominated community it would have not been suspended like this. Why? Because I don’t think it would have been on a site like Livejournal. In my experience, that’s where the male-female distinction seems to be. Female fans populate social network sites run by panicky male-dominated corporations who want to make money from selling advertising to women, but don’t really have the brass ovaries to deal with hosting female interaction on the internet. It’s like they expect feathered sugar with a hint of spice and are shocked to discover girls have locker room talk and smoke in the bathroom. Male fan communities seem to be owned and operated by like-minded males, the male-dominated comic company itself, the comic creator who gathers his own fans to his side, or the self-style Pirate King who set up the torrent site specifically for illegal activities and searched around for an ISP that wouldn’t check on him too closely. Livejournal’s jumpy about their fanbase. They know they need them to keep the traffic up, but they are scared to death to be held liable for what goes on on their site. There’ve been a few instances with this in the past with fanart and fanfiction, and it was only a matter of time before they freaked out about scans. I don’t think male fans are completely safe from legal repercussions for the various degrees of piracy, but they seem to hide better from people who find them unacceptable. They find more sympathetic hosts. Actual pirate sites have their own servers so jumpy ISPs won’t slam down on them. Why female fans are so tied to a corporate-run social site that doesn’t share their interests I can’t say for certain, but that dependency is what leaves female communities more vulnerable to being shut down than male communities.