Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Opinions or Creative Commons and Collective Creation

So it's come to this, a blog post about opinions. Sigh I have two stories that I have high hopes for that I'm due to hear back about soon, in the meantime enjoy... or don't, my opinions. The picture is from here.

About four years ago I was surfing the internet when I came across a list of Creepy Things That Seem Real But Aren't. There were several compelling stories but I want to talk about two particular ones.

First - the Slender Man...

He's now very well known but back then he was just beginning to emerge in wider public consciousness. He was begat in 2009 during a bulletin board competition to create creepy images. He only appeared several pages in but once he arrived he took the thread over. Over days and weeks participants vied with each other to flesh out his story.

His basic features have been elaborated on but Slender Man is a thin, tall figure, dressed in a suit. He has no face but does have hypnotic powers and tentacle-like arms. He is a superb avatar of fear for two reasons 1) he is not human but humanoid, he is almost right but as a result is spectacularly wrong 2) he is faceless and his motives are similarly inscrutable, making him perfect for imaginative projection. Like most monsters he was not created ex nihilo. His folklore ancestors have been spotted all over the world, for example in Germany (der Grossman), Scotland (Fear Dubh), Colombia (Huipa) and Japan (Noppera-Bo) It's no surprise then why he became popular.

But things have not gone well for Slender Man. If you follow the first link I gave you'll find the first pictures of the Slender Man have disappeared. He has been acquired and third-party copyright. Even before his capture he was becoming overexposed, in images, games, t-shirts and web-series, most of which were not great. The best example is a series called Marble Hornets. It started out well but got profoundly lost as time went on. Marble Hornets was converted into a feature film which ended up a flop with predominantly negative reviews. This really is the point. Slender Man was a collective creation but it was poorly-developed, an anarchic free-for all, one that was ultimately enclosed.

Second - SCP-087...

Also known as The Staircase, SCP-087 is in my opinion one of the best short stories I have ever read.

It is a horror story written in an unusual style, a mock-technical report. It is a description of a strange phenomenon and the attempts to explore it. It works in a similar manner to good Slender Man tales, through bluff and suggestion. 

The story itself is in the addenda. They describe how a team of scientists send human guinea pigs on expeditions through an unmarked door in an unnamed university. Beyond the door is a dark staircase. The stairs are not what they seem to be. They go down far deeper than is physically possible. The guinea pigs report the sound of someone crying for help at the bottom of the stairs though they never reach them. Before long they encounter an faceless apparition which pursues them up (and in one case down) the stairs. There are four missions to the staircase. The first two are scary, the third is a disaster, the last is [EXPUNGED] entirely. We end with the door being covered in industrial padding to muffle the monotonous knocking sounds coming from within.

The Staircase is one of more than two-thousand collected on a wiki-site called the SCP Foundation. In-universe the SCP Foundation is an extra-governmental organisation with (almost) worldwide reach, dedicated to securing, containing and protecting humanity from dangerous anomalies. In this world it began in 2008 as a collective writing project and has now bloomed into visual arts, spin-off computer games and such like. One of mthe best things on Youtube is the small-constellation of channels dedicated to SCP Readings, my personal favourite is the Eastside Show.

The Foundation is covered by Creative Commons Licencing (this is the version it uses). Creative Commons is a form of collective creative government. It means everything on the Foundation website can be used (with appropriate credit given) but it cannot be expropriated. There is a process, an organisation. The Foundation is open-source but goes to great lengths to develop new pieces. There is the application process, which you have to read in full and numerous how-to and beginners guides, a sandbox site where drafts can get critiqued. The main site itself offers comments sections for instant feedback and the ultimate judgement in an up/down vote function. Stories with positive ratings remain, negative-rated stories are removed. All of this is based around CC Licensing. Compare this to Slender Man's chaotic, artisanal creation, it's like the difference between an automated factory and a potting shed.

Creative Commons is a solution in waiting to all sorts of creative problems. In the creative arts goes a long way to meeting the challenge of the zero margin economy. The conventional media set up, including conventional copyright encloses the arts but modern technology, new means of distribution are creating abundance. 

Capitalist media and creative corporations are looking for a profit margin. They are forced to hedge their bets and they are forced to police intellectual property even more zealously. They have a vested interest in scarcity, hence the disappearance of the Slender Man... hence a lot of things. In publishing you will often hear that there is no real market for short stories and there isn't, that doesn't mean there's no demand. Just look at the SCP Foundation.  Tens of thousands of hours have gone into creating and maintaining it. People have given their time and effort entirely for free. This is the future of creativity already happening. All it needs is support and recognition.

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