scifantasy: Me. With an owl. (Default)
scifantasy ([personal profile] scifantasy) wrote on September 5th, 2008 at 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 [ 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. [ 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 [ 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 [ 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 [ 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 [ 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 [ 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. [ 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 [ 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.
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