05 September 2008 @ 02:08 pm
Of Filk And Dementia, or I Really Should Know Better, But...
"Do you think I should chime in?"
"There's half a chance in hell the pro-Dementia crowd would listen to you."
"Which is a greater chance than some of the other people discussing it would have."
"Which almost says I have a responsibility."

And I take my responsibilities very seriously.

Everybody who has no interest in filk (or worse, because I know there are a couple of people, an active dislike), please skip this post.

So. It seems that over on [livejournal.com profile] mrgoodwraith's LiveJournal, there was a recent debate about dementia and filk.[1] Randy raised a not-invalid point that some very good dementia songs didn't make this year's Pegasus Award ballot, in a category they certainly qualified for on the face of it, namely Best Comedy Song. Randy expressed his concern that the filk community as a whole was biased against dementia[2]. This led to some pretty heated discussion of the First Hilbert Problem of filk, namely, "how do you define filk?" Personally, I think that question isn't germane to the issue at hand. The issue isn't about the music called "filk" and whether it encompasses all fan-written music, or just certain forms, or what: there is a community which calls itself and is commonly accepted as "the filk community," it gives out the Pegasus Award within itself, and that's the topic.

First, let's deal with one easy point: the Pegasus Committee is blameless in this matter. I refuse to believe that the Pegasus Committee took dementia songs off of the list; if the songs aren't there, the only reason is that they didn't get enough nominations. Anybody who suggests otherwise is, in my opinion, not contributing to the discussion, and being insulting to boot.

Now, as far as I know, nobody has actually suggested this; I'm being pre-emptive. But it's important to repeat this: the only reason there were no dementia songs on the Pegasus ballot was that not enough people voted for them in the nomination poll.

OK. We're done with the easy. Now, on to the hard question: Why did not enough people vote for them in the nomination poll? There are, in my view, five reasons, some greater and some lesser.

First is that not all of the dementia folks consider themselves filkers. [livejournal.com profile] devospice, for example, says this outright. Now, his reasoning is that he "[doesn't] want to step on any toes," which suggests that should he be nominated, he would accept; but some are strict about it. Look at "Weird Al" Yankovic, or for that matter Jonathan Coulton. According to Pegasus Evangelista [livejournal.com profile] catalana, Coulton specifically turned down a nomination for "Skullcrusher Mountain" for this reason.[3]

Second, and this may be slightly painful for some dementia folks, is that some of them really might not be filkers. I point you to a comment by [livejournal.com profile] billroper: "someone who is a filker comes to play with us. Someone who is not a filker comes to play at us."

Once, I heard a not-to-be-named dementia artist express frustration at the makeup of a certain filk circle, complaining that it "took too long" for a person's turn to come around again because there were "too many people singing." He remembered fondly a circle consisting of three people singing, with some dozen or so just listening. I don't remember if I said this aloud, but I'll say it now: That's not a filk circle. That's an impromptu concert. Filkers have a community relationship, not a performer/fan relationship. And most dementia artists are used to the latter...and most of those fans are not filkers.[4]

I realize that it's more difficult to join in a filk circle if you use backing tracks and electronic equipment, but it is doable, and given how much of filk is based on the circle, I would suggest that being involved in the circles is essential. This is, I think, the crux of what has [livejournal.com profile] partiallyclips so frustrated with filkers. He sees filk as a club, only letting people in who fit what it defines itself as. To which I say, if that's the case--a concession I'm not necessarily making--then a person has two option: either participate or not. And if that person chooses not to participate, then he or she no longer has standing to complain that filk doesn't fit with his or her ideas of what it should be. Saying that because filk as you see it doesn't line up with what you believe it should be, you're not going to be a part of it, is your choice...but it is not a choice which will lead to filk becoming what you think it should be any time soon.

Third, there's the question of regionality. As [livejournal.com profile] hsifyppah pointed out, dementia is almost entirely in the Midwest and the East Coast. Many West Coast filkers haven't even heard of a number of dementia artists...and their music doesn't get performed in circles, so it's sort of limited to the artists themselves. Compare this to "Girl That's Never Been," which a lot of people heard from singers other than [livejournal.com profile] vixyish. The Pegasus Awards are not limited to one region, and if songs don't get heard by people in different areas, they won't have enough votes. (In 2006, Rob made this exact argument--a lack of recognition especially in the West Coast--concerning why "Rich Fantasy Lives" lost to "The Girl That's Never Been.")

Fourth, related to regionality, is saturation. Dementia artists put out a lot of songs. [livejournal.com profile] lukeski has been doing one CD a year, of late. With all that music, much of it very good, one song standing out to get heard becomes tricky, especially if the music mostly gets spread through CD and concerts, and not circles.

And finally: yes, I admit it. There are some filkers who don't think dementia is filk, period, and will refuse to put any dementia on their nominating ballot. However, I do not believe that these filkers constitute a majority, or even a plurality.

So. In order of importance, I put the issue of singing in circles first, tying in points 2, 3, and 4; following that, the regionality and saturation arguments; then the question of definition as a filker, and finally, and extremely minor, the refuseniks.

The Great Luke Ski's "Grease Wars," Sudden Death's "The Geeks Come Out At Night," or Worm Quartet's "Your Bird Smells," to choose three random examples, are all excellent and funny songs. If any of them were to be called "the best comedy filk song," I wouldn't have serious objection[5]. Hell, I wouldn't object if they were chosen as the year's best performer or writer/composer--they have serious skill in those departments. However, unless they're well known enough in the filk community, there's no way they'll get enough votes to be considered for the Pegasus Awards. And the only way to change that is for the performers to be more involved in the community, not just through concerts.

If you want dementia songs--your own, or others'--to appear on Pegasus Award ballots, get them where filkers will encounter them--house filks, online filk fora (such as [livejournal.com profile] filk), and especially convention circles. And not just on CDs, but in person, in places where filkers make their decisions. If filkers hear them, and like them enough, they'll vote for them. It's no more and no less complicated than that.

[1] Randy, I pulled you off of my friends list in the runup to law school, mostly as a function of time and reading and cutting my list down, not for personal reasons--though you probably didn't take it personally. In retrospect, I was being a bit harsh in my evaluations of cut-downs, so I've put you back on the list. At the same time, I can't really apologize for the defriending, as it meant I wasn't seeing this debate as it happened...which was a good thing, as I'd probably have spent my time contributing to that instead of, for example, taking class notes.
[2] I think that's a good way of summing up Randy's concerns, but check out the original post for a longer discussion.
[3] While I don't want to make many personal attacks, I do have to say: Rob, that "FAIL" was distinctly out of line. Erica answered your point about Coulton calmly and professionally; why move to macro insults?
[4] On that note, I do have to give credit to the dementia artists for flat-out telling their fans not to stuff the ballot box.
[5] Except for my existing "I have to choose one from all the great choices?" concerns. Hence, "serious objection."

Of course, the flip side of my responsibility is that I have it because some of the dementia artists consider me a friend...and after all this is said and done, I don't know if that won't change.
Soundtrack: Rich Fantasy Lives - Rob Balder And Tom Smith - Downloaded
Velocity: worried
( Post a new comment )
thnidu[identity profile] thnidu.livejournal.com on September 5th, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC)
I wasn't even aware of this argument (and a good thing too, for similar reasons to the ones you expressed in note 1).
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thnidu[identity profile] thnidu.livejournal.com on September 5th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
PS: I looked at the cut because I wasn't aware of the argument... and took the subject line literally, with the usual, medical meaning of "dementia". (I wrote a filk about my mother's Alzheimer's.)
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[identity profile] sweetmusic-27.livejournal.com on September 5th, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a decent analysis to me. Well written, well reasoned, and nicely put.
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[personal profile] hms42 on September 5th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
Condensed version of the issues. Thank you for doing that.

The one time I was at a con that had filk late night with a number of dementia artists, they did make it to the late night filk, but it was mostly them since the convention was starting to rebuild the filk track that year after about 5 years of no track leader. (The person running the track did a good job too.)

While I don't follow most of the dementia performer LJs, its nice to hear them say to NOT stuff the ballot box with their fans.

If I do see one of them on a Pegasus ballot in the future, I definitely will check out their music in more detail at that time BEFORE voting. (They did sell me a CD (or was it a DVD) at that convention where I crossed paths with group of them.)
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[identity profile] jannyblue.livejournal.com on September 6th, 2008 10:16 am (UTC)
The only reason they were there is because they were invited by a newbie track-leader who hadn't been informed of the difference between the two groups.

A lot of "traditional filkers" still wag their fingers and click their tongues at anyone who needs batteries to play their accompanyment. And they were all at FKO that weekend and couldn't make it.

What's the number of geek social fallacy where "all my friends should get along with each other"?
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[personal profile] hms42 on September 6th, 2008 02:12 pm (UTC)
I look at it this way, it was a great opportunity to get some new fans for them and a chance for those of us who didn't goto FKO that year (I have the same problem again this year) to get to hear and possibly like the dementia performers.

I consider them filk performers. The key thing is that we know of them to support them by purchasing their CDs (and the FuMP CDs). If I was at another convention with the dementia artists, I would go to see them again.

As for the newbie who didn't know. They were working on a VERY short time frame and did a great job given the time and resources they had. I still see NOTHING wrong with what they did. I enjoyed myself at the con that year and I did get to see people whom I would have likely not crossed paths with for a number of years. (One good exception from that bunch I see on about 2-3 times a year at cons.)
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[identity profile] jannyblue.livejournal.com on September 6th, 2008 10:08 am (UTC)
The Pegasus is an award for excellence in filk.

The problem is, for something to be "excellent filk" you first must define filk, and also what parts of it are to be excelled at.

It's the universal problem of trying to put a quantitative measure on a qualitative thing. If things are a similar style, it's easier to compare. A realistic drawing of a cat by a professional artist is going to look better than a realistic drawing of a cat by a 3-year-old.

But when things get more different, yet are still considered under the same label, it gets harder to compare them.

It's sort of like judging a dog show. It's relatively easy to pick the "best in breed" because all the dogs in the breed have the same set, written-down standard, so you just pick the dog that's closest to it.

But it's harder to pick "best in show" because to do so you have to determine if the beagle is more beagle-ish than the poodle is poodley. It requires you to know what's "proper" for each breed, and they ALL have different standards for what's "right".

And that's when biases can come out. Maybe you judge Irish Setters more harshly than the others because you are an expert on that breed. Maybe you overlook Bulldogs because you don't know the standard for it as well as you know the standards for other breeds. Maybe you just don't like chihuahuas because they don't appeal to you.

It's normal to have a preference for things you know and like. And many people are hesitant to try new things, even while professing the opposite, if the new thing is sufficiently different from the familliar.

But what do I know? I'm only 28... and on the outside edges of the group...
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[identity profile] partiallyclips.livejournal.com on September 6th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)
Hail filk's ambassador to dementia. Apparently this is dementia's ambassador to filk, holla back, yo. Hey, let's hope we can create a meaningful dialogue instead of just trying to convince the other one they've got it wrong!

Whoops, blew up on the launch pad.

Post mortem:

Rob: Filk is acting like a club.

Will: These are filk's club rules.

Rob: Filk rejects defining itself either in musical terms, or by its broader role in fandom.

Will: Let's not address those questions. Let's talk about the club.

Rob: Filk has defined its terms, and rejects all fannish music which does not meet it on those terms.

Will: These are the terms. This is is how you become a member of the club. If you do not meet these terms, you are not filk.

Rob: Exactly. Fail. Cue the macro, because there is nothing constructive left to be said.

We're in agreement. Filk is a community. It is not defined by music. It is defined by the behavior of its participants.

Now, music made by people who participate inadequately in that community may be tolerated in a circle, in moderate amounts (I have witnessed complaining at too much JoCo being sung), if the style is near enough to the other songs being performed. However, such music may never be recognized.

"Best Filk Song" therefore translates to something like "song by a currently participating filker which has garnered the most positive attention among currently participating filkers" and only peripherally has anything to do with the song itself.

If "someone who is a filker comes to play with us. Someone who is not a filker comes to play at us" is true, then I have no idea why the Pegasus bothers with a "Best Performer" category. Performance is the very antithesis of filk, right?

You know that's a contradiction. You know that's where this definition fails. Filk fails music. Filk fails fandom.

Filk exists for itself.

You don't need to lecture me on the community and participatory aspects of filk, Will. I had always accepted what filk is. I understood very early on, and I met filk on its terms, in the participatory and community spirit in which it lives. I made many friends, and I heard much great music, and I had a lot of very good times.

I think I am about to lose all of that, just because I've reached the point of seeing what filk isn't.

I walked the whole long distance to Filk Mountain. But only a fool then stands there and asks the mountain to please take one step in his direction.

I'm done asking. The only question I'm left with is, "Do I live on the mountain now? Or do I walk home?"
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[identity profile] cadhla.livejournal.com on September 6th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
Rob, if you look at the Pegasus Bylaws, this is the first thing you're going to see:

Filk Community Definition

1. In order to participate in voting for the Pegasus Awards, you must be a member of the filk community.

2. To be eligible to receive a Pegasus Award, a Nominee (or at least one composer of a collaborative work) must be (or have been) a member of the filk community.

3. Anyone who exhibits an interest in the filk community can be considered a filker.

Exhibiting interest can be shown by, but is not limited to:

* Filking at sf/fantasy conventions
* Attending filk conventions
* Attending house sings
* Participating in online boards/discussions/mail lists/webrings pertaining to filk
* Discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers

You know what? Filk has defined its terms, and rejects all other fannish music which does not meet it on its terms. So has Dementia. If I came to Dementia with my acoustic guitarist and my sweet mournful little seasonal monarchs cycle, you would laugh me out of the room. And that would be entirely justified, because hey, not playing Dementia. Filk is bigger and more flexible than that, but y'know what? You still have to meet a community on its terms.

Yes! Filk exists for itself! So does EVERY community, EVERY activity! Filk does not 'fail music' because I can't nominate songs from Dr. Horrible for the Pegasus Award. Filk does not 'fail fandom' because Dementia can't sweep the leg of an award that ninety percent of the fannish world has never heard of.

Why didn't more Dementia make the ballot? Because it's never been heard in California. Because it's never sent anyone to attend the UK con and expose the International filk community to its goodies. Because you, Rob, are the only Dementia artist I've even seen outside OVFF. I consider you a filker. I consider Luke, whom I've met at OVFF, a filker. I don't cast all the votes for California...and just as you don't like the sad, I don't always like the funny.

Personal tastes + regional accessibility do not = fail. You continually trying to turn this discussion about a community that has accepted you and said 'you can play in our treehouse, please don't smash our toys' into chanting 'fail fail fail' = fail.

Also? You say you've witnessed complaints about too much JoCo? Well, I've witnessed complaints about too much Fish, too much of me and Vixy, too much ose, too many sad songs, too many sing-alongs...a circle is a fickle thing. Sometimes it wants cake, sometimes it wants pie. And wanting cake is not failing filk. Wanting cake is natural.

Filk doesn't say 'oh your funny people with their electronic backing can't come play.' It says 'if you want us to eat your pie, you must eat our cake.' There is nothing wrong with that.

Edited 2008-09-06 04:52 pm (UTC)
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[identity profile] mrgoodwraith.livejournal.com on September 9th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
Seeing that I've slipped back to skip=500, I'm only now seeing this post. Excellently done, and I wish that some of your points had occurred to me before I posted.

Re: unfriending: No prob. I don't pay much attention to that sort of thing, frankly. I like to be friended by those I friend, but I know that there are people who can't or won't do so (or, having done so, have to turn it off) for various very good reasons. Feel free to turn the spigot on or off as need be. ;-D

One clarification:

Randy expressed his concern that the filk community as a whole was biased against dementia

Not "the community as a whole," just a certain subset of it. But I now believe that to have been an erroneous conclusion. I was under the impression that the dementia artists and their music were more widely known among traditional filkers than they, in fact, are; the large number of comments to the contrary that were posted to my original entry were eye-opening. Thanks to everyone for helping me to get a better idea what's going on out there!
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[identity profile] scifantasy.livejournal.com on September 9th, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
Not "the community as a whole," just a certain subset of it.

Point. For that matter, it seems the biggest issue in the whole debate is "it's not the whole community, just a subset." *grin*
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