All right. I've been promising an essay about the use of Talifan in fandoms by authors directed towards fans for quite a while now. It truly is an interesting thing; held in derision by fans and authors alike, except in those odd cases when fans take it as a badge of honor. It's an oft misunderstood term, as it's bandied about in those areas with huge fan followings, and usually centered about a controversial subject.
What on Earth is a Talifan?
Since I first thumped upon the idea for this essay, I've been shifting through the archives of the Internet, hunting for the beginning of this particular phrase. The first instance I could find of it, was an appearance in newsgroups in late 2001. Oddly enough, that early instance in the Google Archives was a reply to an earlier post in a NASCAR newsgroup. For anyone who doesn't know, NASCAR is the major stock car racing group here in the States. Despite what some Star Wars fans think, it's not a term coined by Karen Traviss. It's older than that. Older than Karen Traviss being a writer without a doubt, and Karen Traviss herself has stated that she doesn't know who originally coined the term.
What is agreed on though, nearly unanimously and across fandoms, is some variation of this definition for a Talifan:
someone so zealous about their personal vision of their chosen franchise that they threaten, abuse, libel or stalk writers who work in what they consider Their World, but who don't accede to their demands because there's that pesky business of the franchise owner wanting things written a certain way.
Most definitions usually leave off writer as a specific, replace it with their celebrity of choice, be it a car driver, a football star or even video game designer. Additionally, please note that this is Karen Traviss' own definition of the term. Also, this is a definition from within industry, not from the fandom itself. It originally was bandied back and forth by authors and other celebrities about their fans. It is not a term of endearment for those who take a position diametrically opposed to a fandom's content creators.
Sure, some fans can be aggressive in their discussions and talking with their celebs of choice. The case books abound with stalkers of famous actresses. Without a doubt, these folks exist.
Let me repeat that: these folks exist.
They even exist in popular media as characters. Routinely villains, but they exist. Merely, look towards a little book/movie combo by Stephen King entitled Misery for an example.
Wow, I'm way off where I thought I'd be with this, so to drag this back to Star Wars, let's get a bit of history as to what caused this term to come to the forefront of the fandom's consciousness.
Clones for Talifans, '09
It started with a bit of imaginative numbering of the Clones from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and Karen Traviss putting their number at a mere 3 million. Then, rather than fix such an oddly low number for a galactic army charged with protecting billions of planets, she shrunk the other side's army to a matching number, despite evidence of a much, much larger droid army in other EU material.
Well, Star Wars fan are a...well, let's just say we really like our franchise. So, of course, the various forums out there (TheForce.Net, StarDestroyer.Net, theGalacticSenate.Net & StarWars.com) which have a wide following of Star Wars fans visiting them kind of erupted.
There was name calling, and other troll-like behavior. And then the author jumped in.
We won't get into the whole fiasco, but there were bannings from various sites of long-term posters, and other such things. In general, it was some rather nasty business.
But for the purpose of this essay, it's somewhat irrelevant.
What I'm here to discuss today, is does the existence of the phrase 'Talifan' hamper discussion among fans.
I have to say that it does. Without fail.
Do these people exist? Sure. Is every person currently banned from a website because they've had that label applied to them one? I truly doubt it.
Frankly, I wrote an article over at the KrashPAD (my politics/rants focused blog) dealing with the phrase Intolerance and how it has changed over the years. If we, as a fandom, are not careful, then we will start labeling any fan that we don't agree with a 'Talifan.' This behavior is something that we see in the 'real world' already. There are phrases, that when applied to a discussion, will stop it, without fail, and without recourse. Calling someone a racist, a sexist, or intolerant does that. Those, and other words like them, are designed, and given the weight of political correctness, to stop logical discourse about a subject.
Over at the KrashPAD I often have discussions on subject matter ranging from free speech to religion, and one of the threads is how there is plenty of evidence (both in actions, and in the way those actions are not denounced) that Muslims are not all that peaceful in regards to those who are not Muslims. On one of those posts, I had received a comment, with someone yapping at how intolerant I was regarding Muslims. The commenter's entire post, was dedicated to that. The entire argument against my little rant (it was about those Denmark cartoons and the Muslim cry for blood over them, a cry evidenced by multiple published news reports) was that I was an intolerant cretin who should know better than to bad-mouth people.
Notice that rather than this person defending what they felt with thoughtful, logical discussion, the commenter resorted to calling me intolerant. A blatant attempt to make me realize the error of my ways of not being 100% politically correct. At other times, I have been called a racist for arguing against slave reparations, sexist for arguing that there are genetic, built-in differences between men and women, and homophobic for arguing that children need a mother and a father and that is a reason why non-married, non-heterosexual couples, should not adopt children.
These name callings have always been someone's attempt to shame me into silence.
Is Harry Potter a Talifan?
For more examples of this, let's look over at the Harry Potter franchise. This article (If you're an obsessed Harry Potter fan, Voldemort isn't the problem. It's Hermione versus Ginny.) was published back around the time when Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince was released, dealing with the various 'ships attached to Harry at that point. Similar disruptions occurred in that fandom when the founder of Mugglenet referred to Harry/Hermione shippers as "Delusional," and then Rowling didn't help matters by chuckling. Of course there are no indications that this was done in anything but jest, but it didn't matter. An entire subset of the fandom felt attacked, so of course, they fought back, in the form of hate mail describing the parties involved in rather colorful terms.
Think about it, simply calling a group of fans delusional was enough to start this avalanche of hate-filled discourse; grinding discussion on the franchise to a stop while the fans dealt with the backlash from that single, simple comment.
Was it right or wrong? That's irrelevant. It stopped true communication as people responded with emotions--in this case anger.
When people are called Talifan by other fans or authors, the attempt is to shame them into silence. They don't want to discuss or logically defend their position, so they have this handy term to stop the discussion, to turn the person they don't agree with into an outcast of the collective group which the discussion is being held in.
Yet there is another aspect of this issue, and it relates to something in the news recently as well. Namely, Rowling's "outing" of Dumbledore. A number of fans were outraged, howling with derision for this (to some people) rather random thought of the author. The side of my brain that deals with the KrashPAD's rants is definitely wondering how NAMBLA will use Dumbledore's sexuality in their political and social propaganda, but I digress.
Anyways, this news created articles and blog postings on both side of the creative divide. With some rushing to Rowling's defense, while others continue to deride her, and while the defenders have not gone so far as to call those who dislike the news "Talifans" one has to wonder just when that will appear.
Regardless, it goes into a concept of just who owns these characters. John Scalzi over at Whatever (here's his article about it), posts this in the comments:
You are under the impression that you jointly own the character with the author, but the author is neither obliged to agree with this formulation (not in the least because typically the author owns the copyright to the character — i.e., the actual legal ownership), nor is bound to be circumspect in discussing the characters because a reader assumes an ownership.
It's an interesting thought from the creator's side of things, but it does leave me wondering about things. In years past, stories were owned by the community. They were passed down orally from generation to generation, with each story teller giving a slightly divergent view of the story. Fans love these characters, they feel invested in them. Yet, typically authors look down on fans that try to do this active reading of "their" characters. Doctorow describes this concept over at a Locus Online feature (In Praise of Fan Fiction), and has this to say:
Writers can't ask readers not to interpret their work. You can't enjoy a novel that you haven't interpreted — unless you model the author's characters in your head, you can't care about what they do and why they do it. And once readers model a character, it's only natural that readers will take pleasure in imagining what that character might do offstage, to noodle around with it. This isn't disrespect: it's active reading.
I am an Active Reader
So, what does this all mean to us? What does all this have to say about Talifans? About fans in general?
First off, there are real fans out there who are hateful to the creators and actors of our beloved franchises. They stalk them, send death threats, or even shoot President Reagan.
Yet too often, authors and fans alike are so bent on defending their interpretation of characters, settings, and scenarios that their arguments get lost in a smattering of rhetoric and name calling. They fail to realize that maybe, just maybe, the other side, really does have a point in what they're trying to say.
Should the fans have attacked Traviss when she numbered the clones at a mere 3 million? Of course not. Yet, should Traviss have modified the number of droids out there as a reaction to that, and justification for, her initial low number? That's harder to justify, but since it is a shared universe between her and other Lucas Books authors, I have to say no. She stomped on another author's contribution to the GFFA in an order to defend her own stance, and as an attack against the criticism (whether just or unjust doesn't matter) she was receiving.
Likewise, should the readers who dislike this "new" interpretation of Dumbledore be sending death threats to Rowling (as an aside, I don't know that she has received any for her recent announcement, nor do I particularly care to know, I'm just using this as an example)? Of course not. Yet why did she feel the need to make such a pronouncement? What need was there?
The cynic in me says it was just to stir up controversy and drum more publicity for her work. But I see money-grubbing behind just about everything, an aspect of being an unabashed Capitalist I guess.
Ultimately, it is the copy-right owners who have the right to make such announcements and do such to their intellectual property. At the same time, authors, and other creative types, need to realize that for fans to actually care about their characters, they are going to internalize them. Wonder about what else these characters have done or are doing. They are going to make up stories about them.
And they are going to get upset and defensive, if and when the creators change the view of these imaginary worlds without warning.
In the end, all Talifans do it. It is the definition at the start of a Talifan to be so upset about changes to their view of imaginary worlds that they libel, defame, stalk, etc the creators. On the other hand, not all who do so are Talifans.
And that is why authors and fans alike need to be wary of using the term Talifan as a label; after all, it will easily become something that is used in order to shut up someone who they don't agree with, and that's not good for anyone.