As part of the class we present on remix techniques in different mediums, and for the week I presented the topic was written media. One of the recommended topics was fanfiction, which is of huge interest to me.
This presentation was written for an audience that was assumed to have very little background knowledge of fanfiction and fanwork. As such, there are many topics in fandom that are not touched on. As you'll see below, fanfiction is a very rich topic but I could only scratch the surface given that I had to present in only 15 minutes.
Here are the slides; below you'll find the corrected transcript of my notes for the presentation since SlideShare was unable to process my presenter notes. You'll see the slide number and then the text associated with that slide
- Most of you have heard of a little book called Fifty Shades of Grey. You’ve also probably heard of that infamous vampire series Twilight (which I maintain is vastly inferior to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in terms of vampire related media). But it’s not as well known that Fifty Shades of Grey has its origins in Twilight - its first life was as Twilight fan fiction. Fifty Shades was altered in order to be published as a novel in its own right. But why would someone take an existing story and spin it this way?
- Before we get to that question, let’s examine exactly what fan fiction is. In order to understand fanfiction, we look at where it originates from.
- Meet the current state of media. We have movies, books, video games, and a vast number of entertainment out in the world. Each has a story, different characters, and narrative themes that are unique to that story. The stories they tell and the associated elements are collectively called…
(Which is in no way related to cameras)
Canon is defined as the material accepted as part of the story in an individual universe of that story. Example: it’s canon that Luke and Leia are twins in Star Wars. Nothing will change that. These are the rules of the universe within each story, and they are managed by the creators of the universe or any approved authors.
Fan work, on the other hand, is material created by people who aren’t associated with the original work. This comes in two key formats: fan art and fan fiction.
What’s great about fanfiction is the level of creativity that is brought to the original story. Where entertainment today can a very specific type of storytelling, fan fiction can play with all kinds of storytelling techniques from the type of story…
To fun combinations of storytelling tropes. In fanfiction there exists the universe where the characters of Star Trek compete in an Iron Chef competition, where Uncle Ben doesn’t die, where Sirius Black totally gets a drink with Bruce Banner. Fan fiction is a core part of being in a fandom, where fans gather to share their enthusiasm for their favorite media.
It’s a culture that stretches from repurposed journaling sites like LiveJournal to dedicated sites such as fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org. Even Amazon has a service called Kindle Worlds dedicated to publishing fanfiction in light of the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, so fanfic writers can now publish their fiction in the hopes of getting noticed by publishers. (Also of note, the book and subsequent Broadway play Wicked).
There is a ton of material to be covered when it comes to fandom and fan fiction, it could take days. But the core question is… why? Why do we care about fan fiction as a remix technique?
We could very easily dismiss fanfiction as irrelevant because of who makes up the core audience, which is teenage girls. In fact, a lot of people do brush it off as such. It’s true that fan fiction is a way of putting wish fulfillment into words. The Mary Sue trope, in which a character that is too perfect is introduced, is often a way for the author to insert themselves into the story. But let’s examine that for a minute. Wish fulfillment. If fan fiction is being written by fans, why would they write this stories if they enjoy the source material? What are they finding not fulfilling in the canon?
Let’s take a look at the cast of some of the shows and movies that have a lot of fanfic associated with it.
Here’s the cast of the Avengers. Keep in mind what you see here.
Now take a look at the main characters from some of the most popular shows on the CW Network.
And here are some other examples of very popular media that have a ton of fan fiction. Found a pattern yet?
So what do they all have in common? There’s barely any diversity. All of these shows have very few, if any, people of color. Most of them are conventionally attractive. And yet the way shows in the United States measure their success is in what percentage of the 18-49 demographic they get, the younger part of which is a huge part of the community that partakes in fan fiction consumption. This demographic is very diverse indeed and informed of current socio-economic issues facing society today.
In fanfic all of the rules change. Writers add new characters, change the characters’ genders, and do so much more that brings in their opinion of the show and alters it to fit their view... which often addresses the shortcomings they find in the canonical content. Fanfiction therefore serves as a means of critique from the audience of the story.
By taking the source content and tweaking it, the writers can demonstrate the weaknesses in the original media and offer their views on how it can be changed. And very frequently, the content of today’s entertainment is a reflection of societal values and current issues, so in this way fan fiction becomes a critique of society at large as well.
So yes. There is poorly written fanfiction. Case in point: My Immortal, which is an infamous Harry Potter fanfic noted for just how terrible it is with poor grammar and bad storytelling. But fanfic is a method of expression. It’s where creativity melds together with critique to form a rich storytelling technique that enhances the stories that we love.