The Alterhuman Media Project

The Birth of the ‘kin is the Death of the Author

Source: US National Library of Medicine Digital Collection

...Or is it? Fictionkin find themselves in a unique situation here. Hell, some would hold that our very existence is a copyright violation. Maybe it’s not quite that extreme, but the dignity of the artist and the dignity of the fictionkin are often pitted against each other. Do we have inherently conflicting needs? What can we do if that’s the case? Let’s take a moment to examine this.

Obviously, artists have rights. We’re generally familiar with this because it’s something which is legally enforced (if you’re not up to speed, The Artists Rights Society has a good primer). But anything beyond this is pretty subjective! So subjective in fact, that scholars have been arguing about it for years. Most of this is wrapped up in a concept known as the death of the author.

Roland Barthes, French literary critic, essentially posits in The Death of The Author that creator and creation are unrelated. By this he means that the ‘true’ meaning of an artwork is in the viewer’s interpretation of it and that the author’s identity cannot or should not be taken into account. This must be the case because art will often outlive its creator by magnitudes of years. In that amount of time, the symbols, gestures and colors depicted could have come to mean completely different things, and the creator will no longer be around to ‘correct’ that. If we reject this premise, the implication is that the meaningfulness of a piece of art only exists as long as the author is around to explain it, and that’s just not true.

Why is this relevant to us? Well, it’s an argument for something which a lot of artists on tumblr don’t like - tagging art as ‘kin’. In the wake of the death of the author every person who looks at a piece of art and says ‘that’s me’ is just as correct as the artist who says ‘no it isn’t’.

Not that that’s what someone’s doing when they tag your art as ‘kin’. Nor are they claiming that the art itself belongs to them, or that you drew it specifically for them. For a lot of people, ‘kin’ is just a nice catch-all tag to organize things that remind them of their fictotype for their own personal sake on their own personal blog. It’s exceedingly similar to the ‘me’ tag that a lot of non-kin use, but with the added bonus that everyone thinks you’re trying to commit copyright infringement when you use it. Whether you understand it or not, when you’re telling people not to tag your art as ‘kin’, you’re not defending your objective rights over the work, you’re defending your subjective perogative to have people interpret your work in ways you deem acceptable.


That being said, I understand the defensiveness. When artists are protective of their work, it almost always has its roots in previous bad experiences. There are kin who have used their position to assert rights over a work that they don’t have. It doesn’t always have to lead to that, but all it takes is one shitty person to leave an impact.

So even though artists might not have the right to decide how people interact with their work, it still doesn’t seem fair to tell them to just deal with it. This is especially true in the case of artists who are also fictionkin themselves. Someone might just want to avoid doubles, but how can they do that without disrespecting other ‘kin? Someone might just want to protect their property from further abuse, but how can they do that without tarring all of their audience with the same distrustful brush?

It’s a real stinker of a problem, especially since avoidance isn’t really an option.

Something I’d suggest to non-kin artists in any case is to gain a more thorough understanding of what being fictionkin actually means (try this article on for starters).  While the root of their distress is understandable, I really believe that the magnitude of it comes from being ill-informed. Fictionkin can be a loyal part of your audience and I think that trying to understand them can benefit you as an artist in more ways than one.

As for what fictionkin can do, there’s always vanity tags - but since you don’t have to do that, there are people who won’t, and I feel like as long as there’s at least one person tagging stuff with ‘kin’ there’s the potential for someone to get upset.

Does that mean we’ll never be able to reach an amicable solution? I don’t think so. When I started writing this piece, I expected to come away with a solid defense for one side or the other, but between research and hearing others’ experiences I’ve really begun to feel for both artists and kin in this scenario. It complicates things, but I’d rather have mixed feelings about an accurate view than simple feelings about an inaccurate one.

I think we just need a little more time, a little more trust, and a little more compassion from both parties. People have as much perogative to tag things as ‘kin’ as others do to ask them not to, which means that any solution reach will probably be a compromise for both. But that’s life sometimes! And it’s in the interest of (alter)human dignity to at least give it a try.

Can you think of a solution that treats both parties equally? What’s your opinion on the death of the author in relation to fictionkinity? If you have comments, let us know! 

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