Skulking Around the Dark Side of Fandom

Many people who dwell on the outskirts of fandom for any time period will wind up writing epic fanfiction that will be completely self-indulgent, never expected to finish, constantly changing, and a complete labour of love. Perhaps this wish-fulfillment is why fans are generally possessive to a dangerous point about their favourite characters. With the emergence of social media, fans have more power than ever, and characters come and go on television based on fan responses. That may be a part of television, but fandom takes it to a different level. The best example to draw from is the show Supernatural. First, the obsession began with fan criticism of co-star Jensen Ackles’ real-life girlfriend, because a beautiful, sexual woman is a clear threat to a fan’s fantasies about the characters. While the show was clearly popular from the first season, hatred for anyone with a romantic history with either of the two male leads was not uncommon. In the second season, a female character named Jo was introduced as a possible love interest for the male protagonist, Dean. She was quickly written out when fans reacted viciously, because she was perceived as a threat to their fantasy boyfriend, and was subsequently killed off during the show. In the third season, two more female characters were introduced amidst much outrage from fandom, and while one was killed off specifically for being disliked by fans, another was replaced by the actress who would go on to marry the co-star of the show, Jared Padalecki. But would she have lasted as long as she did if she hadn’t married Padalecki? While her character was killed off at the end of the season, it was for plot purposes for once, instead of fandom’s outrage. Not that either of the co-stars have any privacy when it comes to their wives, as evidenced by the vicious hate that resulted from the announcement that co-star Jensen Ackles is expecting a baby with his wife. As one can imagine, this leaves any fanfiction writers with a bit of a kink in any fantasies they hoped to realize through fanfiction.

Many people who dwell on the outskirts of fandom for any time period will wind up writing epic fanfiction that will be completely self-indulgent, never expected to finish, constantly changing, and a complete labour of love.
But we can’t be too quick to dismiss fanfiction altogether. It still remains the singular common ground upon which fandoms unite, and thus can make or break writers, celebrities, television producers, and so on. It isn’t completely mainstream, but it isn’t a shameful secret either, considering that even the likes of Neil Gaiman have written fanfiction on the character Susan Pevensie of The Chronicles of Narnia (with subtle changes to avoid legal issues), and writers such as Cory Doctorow have defended fanfiction – not to mention other contemporaries such as Diana Gabaldon who wrote books on characters inspired by Doctor Who characters. Let us not forget author authors, such as my favourite cult writer, Mercedes Lackey, who got her start writing fanfiction, or even Cassandra Clare, who may be writing books now, but before that, was well-known in Harry Potter fandom for the infamous Draco Trilogy. There have even been cases where writers have wanted to borrow ideas from fanfiction writers, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, couldn’t write his book due to legal issues.

And while the George R.R. Martins and Anne Rices of the world may still do their best to quash fanfiction completely, it isn’t happening. Fandom is no longer a new phenomenon, and books, television shows, and movies depend on fandom popularity for their sales. Moreover, fanfiction is truly a labour of love; it isn’t correcting your favorite TV show or writer with “This is how you could have done it better”; it’s exploring new avenues with pre-existing characters, playing in someone else’s sandbox so to speak. If writers get too immersed in their world of fanfiction, can we really blame them? I’m not trying to make excuses for rape culture and paedophilia, but take a writer of the more mundane sort of fanfiction, and think of one good reason why they shouldn’t write fanfiction. The answer is the same one that I give when people ask why I need or identify with feminism: there are many reasons to do so, but no reasons to not do so. Many people who dwell on the outskirts of fandom for any time period will wind up writing epic fanfiction that will be completely self-indulgent, never expected to finish, constantly changing, and a complete labour of love. Why would anyone want to stop playing out their wildest fantasies? Fanfiction certainly got me through the hardest times of my life. Why would I have to acknowledge the multiple F’s on my report card, or face the fear of possibly repeating a class, or confront my own insecurities, when I could be Aurora Black, Level One Warrior-Mage and the feared Warrior Queen? Why would any sane fanfiction writer or reader want to exchange fandom for reality?

Ghausia Rashid Salam is Articles Editor for the magazine.

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