In my basement, a 1995 hardcover dwells:
A riveting documentation of a world long gone, yet full of prophetic clues as to how the music industry’s appetite for self-destruction would lead it straight into the tar-pit quicksand.
Page 372: “Vinyl is more of a craft thing whereas a CD is mass-produced. …now they have CD recording machines so people can always copy someone’s CD and have…something that’s 98 percent of the original.”
“Craft.” The very reason why Hipsters collect vinyl. Pressing a run of actual vinyl records and printing full-color jackets requires dedicated, expensive machinery that is still far beyond the affordability of recreational hobbyists, preserving vinyl records’ ‘collectible artifact’ status to this day.
Computer CD-R drives became affordable by 1998. Overnight, the retail music dynamic was changed forever. College campuses, previously the best neighbors for record stores, suddenly became the worst locations for a record store to be near. Disc sales dropped from “the whole dorm” to “one per dorm” (if that), and then Napster began its rise to prominence.
The major labels of the music industry could have bought Napster at that point and used it as the perfect one-stop distribution center for MP3 files. Their failure to do so gifted Steve Jobs with the world of iTunes, served on a silver-iPod platter. The industry’s myopia also led it to ‘kill’ Digital Audio Tape (DAT), the one product for which a widespread adoption would have significantly slowed the onset of the CD-R revolution of the late 1990’s. By mandating technological restrictions on a product that could make digital copies only at 1x playing speed, the music industry left the path wide open for CD-R drives (which reached 52x recording speed by 2003) to dominate home recording. The equivalent of hiding the keys for a old Volkswagen bus from your teenager, and having them end up discovering the keys for your Dodge Viper instead.
As anyone reading this is well aware, the Digital Age has shaken up the old guard of the publishing industry, in the same manner as it did the music industry. You might be wondering how a nearly twenty-year-old book documenting the “bygone” culture of music bootlegging could be relevant to the world of fan fiction.
Page 392, quoting Lenny Kaye: “I think that bootlegs keep the flame of the music alive by keeping it out of not only the industry’s conception of the artist, but also the artist’s conception of the artist. There’s that self-editing thing and, with all due respect to great artists, a lot of times their own instincts aren’t as righteous about the music as someone else.”
Bootlegs and Fan Fiction both exist to satisfy the desires of the hardcore fans who want to go beyond the official “edited” product, and experience artistic works as an entire extended, unexpurgated universe; seeing as much as possible of the creative vision, beyond what the original artists may have ever envisioned.
Fan fiction has been around for decades, and even centuries. The Digital Age took fan-fiction out of its xeroxed and mimeographed shadows, into the mainstream and even to #1 on the New York Times Best-Sellers List. The world has sound reason to be sure that Stephenie Meyer never foresaw her Twilight Saga as being the ideal platform on which to base BDSM-themed fiction; in this case Meyer may have been so blinded from her own love for Edward Cullen that she could not visualize him as “Christian Grey.” No matter, millions of others not wearing Bella-colored glasses saw the controlling, manipulative aspects of Edward Cullen (whether they liked the Fifty Shades books or not). Those who were attracted to this aspect would naturally gravitate toward an Edward Cullen persona, taken to its logical extreme in Christian Grey.
We, the authors, need to keep possible fan fiction interpretations of our work in mind when writing our sagas. Some authors will try to sweep all fan fiction under the rug, others will celebrate the visions of the fans; but all authors writing in the Digital Age must take heed of fan fiction, regardless of how we personally feel about it. If Stephenie Meyer had considered the more unsavory aspects of Edward Cullen’s ‘character’ at length, she might have changed him to be a ‘better person’, more in line with her own Mormon views as opposed to being potential (and now proven!) BDSM erotica fodder. This would have also nullified the numerous criticisms accusing Edward of being a Grade-A stalker (which he was!). Does any author want to write a character that millions people interpret as being a 180° opposite from what the author intended? Edward Cullen, intended by Meyer to be the embodiment of old-time courtship and an advocate for abstinence until marriage; became Christian Grey, a man who compels Ana Steele into a signing a contract for a non-romantic submissive sexual relationship in which Ana is not allowed to touch Christian or make eye contact with him.
I’m not proffering moral judgments here. My own character Damien Tepesh has been cheating on his wife Lilith for more than two centuries, to the point where Lilith now keeps his current mistress under her control. And his extramarital liaisons will take an extreme twist in my second novel, “Vampire Conspiracy.”
Damien is an unrepentant skirt-chaser, but no one is going to interpret him as a guardian of moral platitude. In a similar vein, it would be exceedingly difficult for anyone to re-cast my protagonist Jack as being anything but a hero, without a ground-up alternate universe styled re-write. An ounce of prevention during invention is better than a million books of an ailment you can’t cure anyway, the “disease” of misinterpretation.