In my final paper for this independent study, I want to explore how some fans have combined GIF sets and fanfiction to create a hybrid genre, GIF stories (or what I insist on calling it: GIF fics). Both GIF sets and fanfiction, albeit in different ways, function in fan communities as ways to communicate interpretations, generally about ships (the romantic pairing of characters). In this paper, I want to examine how the GIF fic draws from these two rhetorical traditions within fandom, making use of the affordances of each to develop a new form of argumentation.
On social media site, like Tumblr, GIF sets, groups GIFs, are circulated to craft
arguments and evoke feels. The looped nature of GIFs encourages viewers to pay attention to the subtle subtext of actors’ gestures and facial expressions. Often interpretations of the actors’ nonverbal cues are directed (as per Roland Barthes) by captions, tags, or superimposed text. GIFs are often paired with lines and lyrics from poetry or songs; the combination of text and image working together to create an argument about the characters’ relationships or romantic attachment.
Fanfiction, too, functions as a form of argument. Through fic, fans present their interpretations of different characters and promote different ships or theories. Like GIFs, fanfiction tends to focus on the romantic relationships between characters, using their stories to demonstrate how romantically or sexually compatible they are. But fanfiction is about more than just making your favorite character do it. Henry Jenkins, and numerous other fan scholars, have observed the deep understanding of the source text, and the fanon that has developed around it, that fanfiction requires. In crafting arguments about the romantic or sexual attraction of characters, fans will often allude to events within the source’s canon or popular theories posited and promoted by the fan community.
GIF fic emerged from the practice of pairing relatively short GIF sets with “incorrect” subtitles. The dialogue imposed on these GIFs might have been
taken from television shows, borrowed from other users’ posts, or invented by the creator of the set. These GIF sets follows the conventions of dialogue captioning and are visually indistinct from the GIFs with the canonical dialogue. If a person unfamiliar with the show were to encounter one of these sets, they would not be able to tell from their visual presentation whether or not they were original to the show or created by a fan.
But for the fans that recognize the remixed subtitles for what they are, the images of the GIF are de- and re-contextualized. The introduction of the new subtitles alters viewers’ reception of the image; certain gestures or expressions might be emphasized because of the added text or the interpretation of them might shift because of subtitles offer a new direction for reading them.
GIF fics function on a similar principle. In GIF fics, new dialogue is added to GIFs, though the sets are much longer, sometimes encompassing multiple themes. GIFs are arranged in such a way as to tell a sustained and cohesive story. In this paper, I will be examining “Jonsa Season 8,” by Tumblr user Tiny Little Bird. The story was posted in six parts, each containing at least thirty –five GIFs, with some chapters exceeding fifty.
Some questions I plan to explore in this paper:
How does the dialogue added to GIF sets interact with images? What is the relationship between visual and the verbal?
How does GIF fic fit into fan communities’ discourses about specific scenes or interactions?
What resonances exist between the scene in the source material and the way in which it is remixed in the GIF fic?
What approaches to authors of GIF fic take to “missing scenes” for which they do not have footage (for example, a sex scene between characters who are not a canonical pairing)?
How do GIF sets function as a rhetorical tool? How the inclusion of material from the show help to visually support the argument made in the story?
In 2006, Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, with her “long ebony black hair… with purple streaks and red tips that reaches [her] mid-back and icy blue eyes like limpid tear,” insinuated herself into Hogwarts, the Harry Potter fandom, and the fanfiction community at large. She is the Mary-Sue protagonist of “My Immortal” which was posted to Fanfiction.net by a writer who identified herself as Tara Gilesbie, user name XXXboodyrists666XXX.
“My Immortal” is terrible. Famously terrible. The text is rife with misspellings and errors in word use, sometimes to humor effect, often to the bafflement of readers (characters, for example, are constantly “frenching passively”). The plot is illogical and incomprehensible; scenes occur out of order or are repeated, characters appear and disappear, dying and coming back to life with no explanation. Sex scenes are juvenile, reduced to “he put his thingie into my you-know-what and we did it for the first time.” Gilesbie feuds with flamers in her Author’s Notes, a saga that becomes a narrative in its own right. The story is needless angsty and spends a disproportionate amount of time describing clothes from Hot Topic (the store itself gets named dropped). And of course, the whole thing is very “goffic.”
Then there is Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, the vampire-wizard-Hogwart’s-student-My-Chemical-Romance-enthusiast at the heart of the story. She embodies all of the worst stereotypes of the Mary Sue. She is beautiful and spunky (if yelling all the time and flipping people the bird count as spunk), but also moody and constantly thinks about slitting her “rists.” She hates posers and preps. Pretty much every male character is in love with her, as she complains to Draco:
“Yeah but everyone is in love with me! Like Snape and Loopin took a video of me naked. Hargrid says he’s in love with me. Vampire likes me and now even Snaketail is in love with me! I just wanna be with you ok Draco! Why couldn’t Satan have made me less beautiful?” I shouted angrily. (an” don’t wory enoby isn’t a snob or anyfing but a lot of ppl hav told her shes pretty) “Im good at too many things! WHY CAN’T I JUST BE NORMAL? IT’S A FUCKING CURSE!”
This is possibly the most Mary-Sue speech ever yelled by a character. Ebony bemoans her beauty, her heterosexual appeal, the fact that she is “good at too many things”! (A character trait that is largely informed and that we don’t see play out much in the story.)
The odd thing is that despite its obvious problems, this story does occupy a place of affection among many members of the fan community. In some cases, it is earnest; in others, it is ironic—a love that comes from the story’s it’s-so-bad-it’s-goodness. But regardless, fanfiction readers seem to have a soft spot for this piece.
For example, in The Guardian, Mathilda Gregrory defends “My Immortal” and Ebony’s Mary-Sueness, noting that “Because under the black leather, it is just a story about a teenage girl who wants to dress up in amazing clothes and date Draco Malfoy. It thereby captures a more painful and poignant truth about being a regular teenager than Rowling’s original series achieves with many, many more words.” She notes that the story subverts the “straight-white-maleness” of Rowling’s text by placing Ebony, a version of Gilesbie, and “all the silly, brilliant, trivial things she cares about” at the “centre of Hogwarts” and the story (Gregrory, “The Gloriously Immortal”). And Simon of Thefandomentals, argues that the story actually points to and is critical of a number of faults in Rowling’s original, not the least of which is Dumbledore’s favoritism.
Others, like Gina Annunziato, argue that “My Immortal is nothing but a trollfic.” It is a parody of terrible fanfiction and a satire skewering the tropes of a lot of juvenile fic that was being written within the Harry Potter fandom at the time. If you read the story as genuine, these fan argue, it is only because of Poe’s law.
As Kayleigh Donaldson notes, though, it doesn’t matter if you view the story as the genuine “id-ridden screed you can only write as a teenager” or “the ultimate parody of bad fiction.” The text supports both readings and no matter what approach you take it “loses none of its impact.”
Part of the reason for the debates about the (in)sincerity of the fic has to do with the fact that its author has long remained unknown. Although the collective intelligence internet has tried to hunt down the fic’s real author (Tara Gilesbie, it turned out, was as much a pseudonym of XXXboodyristsXXX), it couldn’t.
At least until 2017, when, on Tumblr, Rose Christo, a queer-identifying American Indian came out as the story’s author (Romano).
Christo’s announcement spurred a number of articles and think pieces, demonstrating the story’s continued relevance within fandom. Christo revealed that she had written the story as an attempt to use the networks of the fan community to find her brother, from whom she had been separated while they were in the foster care system (Romano). Christo promised to document her story in Under the Same Stars, a memoir, that was soon to be published with Macmillan. Christo’s outing was likely part of the publicity for her book (Shamsian).
Except that the memoir was never published. According to Alex Nolos, Mcmillian canceled the deal because Christo had tampered with documents about her family. In addition, a man claiming to be her brother has come forward “alleging that not only is her real name not ‘Rose Christo’ but she has never been placed in foster care, nor does she have any Native American heritage” (Nolos).
Christo’s claims that she wrote my immortal seem to be sound, but her insistence that she was in on the joke, purposely writing bad!fic, does not seem to have affected how people read the story. “My Immortal” existed for so long without claims of ownership, that fans, at this time, don’t seem all that interested in confirmations of authorial intent.
This indifference could be attributed to the fact that fans have, in many ways, made “My Immortal” their own. There is a surprising amount of fan art for the story. On youtube, people post dramatic readings, accompanied by everything from classical music to illustrations of the text to video game play. From 2013 to 2014, MediaJunkies Studio released two seasons of a live action adaptation of story. Their (My) Immortal functions as a kind of fanfiction itself. Ebony is still at Hogwarts, but we are out of her point view and she is the weird girl who, for some reason, calls Harry Potter “Vampire” and insists that the young men around her wear increasing amounts of black eye-liner. She dates Draco, but seems completely unaware that his real romantic interest is in Harry (he is using her to get close to him). The approach gives Ebony pathos that she doesn’t have in the story. This isn’t the story of a Mary Sue; it is the story of a girl who thinks she is a Mary Sue, but isn’t.
“My Immortal” is more than its individual writer; it represents fandom itself. It represents day dreams of Mary-Suedom and romantic entanglements with your favorite characters. It represents the vulnerability that comes from writing and posting fic and the desire to be cool. It represents the flamers, the trolls, and the negative, ungenerous side of fans, but it also represents the way that fans can find the good in what’s awful. Over ten years after it was written and posted, the story continues to be read, enjoyed, and adapted. It is mentioned in books about fanfiction and shows up on syllabi for fanfiction classes. There are countless 2006 fics that are likely better written but forgotten. “My Immortal” on the other hand, has had a robust afterlife. And I can’t help but wonder if that is because we all have a little Tara Gilesbie in us and a little Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way as well.
In my last post, I explored E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey as a work of fanfiction, discussing its relationship its source text, The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyers. I observed that although the novel come close to critiquing its source text, it ultimately fails to do so and ends up reinforcing some of Twilight’s most problematic elements.
The same cannot be said of the fanfiction I will be discussing here. In mainstream culture, the term “fan” tends to connote uncritical devotion to and consumption of media property. However, anyone who has spent time on Reddit, or any in any other fan community, knows that this is not the case. Fans can, in fact, be the most critical consumers of media, precisely because they are so invested in it. While there are fanboys and fangirls out there who are personally insulted by any suggestion that the object of their fandom is in any way imperfect (R/The Walking Dead was a good example of this for a long time, though there has been a decisive tone shift with the show’s last, disastrous, season), most fans recognize that even their favorite show, film, or novel isn’t perfect. As reginahalliwell, author of “It Takes Two to Make a Baby,” a story that attempts to renegotiate Christian’s response to Ana’s revelation in Fifty Shades Freed that she is pregnant, notes about her own complicated relationship with the Fifty Shades Trilogy: “Guilty pleasure doesn’t mean it’s unproblematic, that’s for sure.”
And that’s where fanfiction comes in. In many ways, fanfiction is a place to explore “what if” in such a way as to fix some of the problems that fans perceive in media texts. In some cases, these fixes might be to plot (“x would never happen in this universe”) or characterization (“y would never act that way”). But they might also be a response to the show’s politics or issues of representation. Fanfiction might tell stories from marginalized perspectives, giving voices to women, people of color, or members of the LGBTQ+ community that have been silenced by the source text. Or they might challenge gender, racist, or queer stereotypes, using fanfiction to draw attention to problematic representation in the media. These fans want “more from” the object of their fandom not just in terms of quantity, but quality. They are writing in from the margins of the text to demand better politics and representation.
As I argued in my last blog post, Fifty Shades of Grey is problematic in a lot of ways, most notably in its representation of Ana and Christian’s relationship. Like Twilight, Fifty Shades romanticizes and normalizes behavior that, in the real world, would be considered intimate partner abuse. In addition, although the novel became (in)famous for its representation of BDSM, many members of the community rejected the novel’s troubling portrayal of kink.
In fanfiction, a number of fanfics take challenge the abusive nature of Christian and Ana’s relationship. For example, Natasja’s “Right Before My Eyes” imagines Ana years into the future. She and Christian are estranged from her children, who recognize their father’s abusive tendencies and are frustrated by their mother’s continued attempts to justify and excuse his behavior. The story is a retrospective, in which Ana reflects on Christian’s attempts to isolate their family, to prevent his children from learning about partner abuse in school, to monitor his daughter’s reading material so that she doesn’t get ideas about “strong independent women”, and control every aspect of their lives. This attempt to control is not presented as sexy or protective, but as abusive (Natasja). Ana ruefully recognizes that “My children saw what I did not. They got out of his control as soon as they could, and didn’t let sentiment lure them back” (Natasja). At the end of the fic, Ana is conflicted about leaving Christian, but not because she sees his actions as romantic or sexy. She recognizes the abuse, but, in a process that many survivors must go through, is isn’t sure that she can leave now. Natasja refuses to romanticize the abuse present in the novel and uses it to empathetically reflect on the emotional struggles of women who have survived or are surviving partner abuse.
Fans will also rewrite and thereby recontextualize scenes from Fifty Shades, often rewriting Ana to make her more assertive and less naïve. One of the most frequently revised scenes is the interview and initial meeting of Christian and Ana. In “Possessive and Obsessive,” QuintessentialCat asks, “What if Anastasia Steele was actually the college educated women [sic] that she’s supposed to be? What if Anastasia was strong willed, impulsive, and believed in a world of equality like many college educated women out there do?” QuintessentialCat rewrites the scene from this new and empowered point of view. Instead of being flustered by how beautiful Christian’s blonde secretaries are, Ana questions the legality of his discriminatory hiring practices. She is unimpressed by Christian Grey and is uncomfortable with the sexual subtext of many of his answers to her questions. His discussion of wanting to be in control is not sexy, it is, according to Ana, “The epitome of the white male in a hegemonic country” (QuintessentialCat). She leaves the interview not charmed, intrigued, and a little turned on like the Ana in James’ novel, but disgusted.
Zoenicole89 further de- and recontextualizes the interview scene in her story: “The One Where Ana is Hella Gay,” which promises readers “The very-overdone concept of The Interview, except with non-idiot Ana.” As the title of this fic states, this story queers Ana and she is represented as in a relationship with Kate. Like the Ana in QuintessentialCat’s story, this Ana is not taking any of Christian’s crap. She is angered by the way that Christian bodily picks her up when she tumbles into his office, because of the way in which it infantilizes her. She critiques his jargon-laden language and is disgusted by his arrogance and his attempts to flirt with her. This story’s recontextualization also reveals the latent homophobia in Christian’s response to Ana’s “are you gay” question, which makes this version of Ana feel uncomfortable. Her running commentary throughout the interview makes clear to the reader what an arrogant and unlikable man Grey is. He is not charming or mysterious or sexy, he is just kind of a dick.
Fans also confront the novel’s problematic depiction of BDSM. In the novel, James, to some extent, pathologizes and demonizes BDSM, suggesting that it is something that Christian needs to be cured of. In addition, much of the abuse in the novel hides under the guise of BDSM Dom and Sub practices. In a number of fics, fans demonstrate that what Christian is teaching Ana is not actually the dynamics of a Dom/Sub relationship but an abuser/survivor relationship.
To return to Natasja’s “Right Before My Eyes,” Ana is in a coffee shop when she hears two friends discussing BDSM. The one woman has entered into a Dom/Sub relationship, and she is explaining how it works to her uninitiated friend. Ana eavesdrops and is struck by the differences between the relationship that the woman describes and Ana’s experiences with Christian:
Everything they said was so different to how things had been when Christian wanted me to be his Submissive. With him, it had been all about control, and whenever I tried to disagree, he would either distract or punish me. The relationship this unknown girl had described was one of trust and respect, where the Dominant had more responsibility than just making decisions, and the Submissive still had the right to make her own choices.
Ana realizes that Christian had presented her with his own warped view of BDSM, one in which he concealed and justified his penchant for abuse under the veil of kink. Sexually naïve and unexperienced and socially isolated from people who might have helped her to see the truth, Ana hadn’t realized that Christian had used the veneer of BDSM as just another way to control her.
Likewise, in “Eighth Wonder” by NarcissusPhinea, Ana, working in publishing, encounters queer BDSM erotic. Initially she is reluctant to read it, fearing that it will trigger her, causing her to relive her abusive relationship with Christian, which she has escaped from but which still traumatizes her. As she reads the novel, however, she notices distinctions between her experience of BDSM and that of the protagonist of the story. First, unlike Christian, the protagonist’s lover does not put limitations on when safe words can be used. She is shocked that the “Protagonist was clearly not dreading her punishment. Wasn’t the point that the Sub wouldn’t enjoy it in order to learn their lesson?” and that “The love interest actually praised her for enduring it while it happened!” (NarcissusPhinea). When Ana asks the author, Romina, about the differences between Ana’s experiences and the representation of BDSM in the novel, Romina explains, “Being a Sub doesn’t mean you’re exempt from receiving basic respect.” Like Natasja’s fic, this story attempt to correct some of the problematic misconceptions about BDSM in James’ novel; namely, that BDSM is not abuse, despite the way that the two are conflated in Fifty Shades.
Being a fan does not mean being uncritical of the object of fandom. Fans use fanfiction as a way to correct what they perceive to be shortcomings in the plot, characters, or representation of the source text. It should be worth noting, however, that not all fans are open to these critiques. While some of this fics I mentioned in this post, like QuintessentialCat’s “Possessive and Obsessive,” have overwhelming positive comments, thanking the author writing a feminist version of the story, other authors like zoenicole89 and Natasja, have received some really negative comments from angry readers, accusing them of not having read the books or not understanding BDSM. These negative comments attempt to justify Christian’s behavior and blame Ana’s discomfort with their relationship on her.
A user, for example, commented on zoenicole89’s fic, “Well that was certainly terrible. I can see you did not read the books or the characters. Ana wasn’t an idiot in the book but Ana/Kate is terrible. Kate told Ana what to do more times than Christian ever did. I’m surprised the ignorant people don’t call Kate abusive.” Zoenicole patiently and graciously responded,
“I think the great thing about books is that they can be interpreted in many ways. You obviously interpreted them in a completely different way than me, and that’s okay. Yes, obviously in the book that E. L. James wrote Ana is supposed to be super smart and Christian is supposed to be super romantic and Kate actually doesn’t get enough screen time to get to know her character that well. But that’s not how I read them.”
I have quoted Zoenicole at length because I think it demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of authorial intent and reader interpretation. She acknowledges that readers can have different interpretations of the text and that those interpretations can vary from what the author intended. Zoenicole and the other authors quoted here are reading Fifty Shades against the grain of the text, and rejected James’ authorial intent to present Christian as a romantic hero, instead recasting him as a villain. Fic is one place in which fans can explore, develop, and promote their interpretations of the text, whether complementary or not. In fic, interpretation becomes an act of creation as fans attempt to show their interpretation through the stories they tell and how they tell them.
Jen. Comment on “The One Where Ana is Hella Gay.” Archive of Our Own, 14 March 2017, https://archiveofourown.org/works/10286687.
NarcissiusPhinea. “Eighth Wonder.” 24 February 2018, https://archiveofourown.org/works/13787979.
Natasja. “Right Before My Eyes.” Archive of Our Own, 25 March 2015, https://archiveofourown.org/works/3618942.
QuintessentialCat. “Possessive and Obsessive.” Archive of Our Own, 18 January 2016, https://archiveofourown.org/works/5751025.
Reginahalliwell. “It Takes Two to Make a Baby.” Archive of Our Own, 16 September 2013, https://archiveofourown.org/works/968660.
Zoenicole89. Comment on “The One Where Ana is Hella Gay.” Archive of Our Own, 14 March 2017, https://archiveofourown.org/works/10286687.
—. “The One Where Ana is Hella Gay.” Archive of Our Own, 14 March 2017, https://archiveofourown.org/works/10286687.
Guys, I finally did it. I finally read E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. There are a lot of reasons why I hadn’t read this novel before:
I’m not a fan of Twilight by Stephanie Meyers, so I didn’t have much interest of spending time with those characters’ analogues.
The writing is famously atrocious.
The gender politics are worse.
The sex isn’t very sexy (at one point, while performing fellatio, Ana refers to Christian’s penis a “Christian Grey-flavored popsicle,” which is very funny, but not really arousing).
The representation of BDSM is problematic, inaccurate, and dangerous.
But here we are, and I could no longer ignore the most famous piece of fanfiction since the Aeneid.
Everyone already knows the story. Anastasia Steele, our mess of a protagonist (seriously at the start of the book the girl is a graduating college senior and doesn’t have an email address), meets Christian Grey, the sadistic-but-gorgeous-rich-and-broken-so-we-forgive-him-I-guess love interest, when she interviews him for her roommate Kate’s article in the university newspaper. Ana literally falls into his office and Christian is intrigued because he has questionable taste in lots of areas of his life. Ana likes him because he’s rich and hot and he likes her for some reason and they get together. Turns out that Ana is a virgin, because of course she is, which is a problem because Christian likes to disguise his physical and emotional abuse of women as kink. They flirt and fuck and do rich people stuff, like fly in helicopters and drink champagne and buy brand name products, Ana bites her lower lip and rolls her eyes a lot (which Christian comments on EVERY.SINGLE.TIME), and call each other “Mr. Grey” and “Miss Steele” which is supposed to be sexy but is actually just pretentious. Christian takes Ana down to his Red Room of Pain and has his way with her, coercing her through conditional affection; she orgasms any time he so much as touches her. She tries to live by the literal contract that is supposed to outline their Dom/Sub relationship, but she wants “more,” like some respect and agency, and is pretty sure she can fix him. One night after he brutally takes a belt to her, she decides that she’s had enough and leaves him.
Tons of articles and think pieces have been written on the novel, analyzing its representations of sex, gender, abuse, BDSM, social class, psychology, etc. And while many of these mention that this story started out as the Twilight fanfiction Master of the Universe, few really interrogate what that means or how James’ work comments on Meyers’.
It is frustrating for some members of the fanfiction community that Fifty Shades became many people’s introduction to the genre. It is not particularly good fanfiction and it’s not very good erotica. I have read lots of stories and lots of sex scenes much better than this. Even more frustrating is that a number of articles about the novel snidely note that it began as fanfiction, implying that’s reason for its poor quality and suggesting that all fanfiction is full of sex and devoid of creativity.
While it is true that fanfiction uses source material, it’s creativity comes from way that it interprets and recontextualizes the its source (see Henry Jenkins, Katherine E. McCain, Bronwen Thomas, Veerle Van Steenhuyse). Fanfiction is not an act of reiteration but of analysis and transformation. In the rest of this post, I want to consider how Fifty Shades both appropriates and comments on Twilight.
Master of the Universe, the fanfiction that was the source of much of the novel, is an example of AU, or alternative universe, fanfiction. It takes the characters from a source text and places them in a new setting. Ideally, the characters should be kept relatively consistent as they function within their new environment and genre. Master of the Universe, and by extension Fifty Shades, provides an all-human AU of the vampire story, dispersing with the supernatural elements of the original.
Anastasia Steele is obviously the analogue for Bella Swan. They are both Mary-Sue-sque female protagonists, who don’t realize how beautiful they are, despite the fact that literally almost every man they meet instantly wants to bang them. Their flaws are that they are pale and skinny and clumsy. And they become instantly obsessed with their respective love interests and think about little else beside their eyes, lips, hair, and abs after their initial meeting.
Other analogues are equally uninteresting. Ana’s mom, like Bella’s, is flighty and geographically removed. She also has a well-meaning but clueless father figure, her stepfather Ray, who is akin to Bella’s Charlie. The American Indian werewolf Jacob is transformed into the unfortunately racialized Jose, who like his canine counterpart has an unrequited crush on the protagonist (because he is a man in her general vicinity, and that’s just want seems to happen). Ana’s best friend is Katherine Kavanagh, who is supposed to be Rosalie Hale. She becomes romantically involved with Christian’s adopted brother, Elliot, Twilight’s Emmett. Christian’s sister, also adopted, Mai is the human version of Alice, Edward’s psychic sister. The Greys, Christian’s wealthy parents who have a brood of adopted children, are stand-ins for the Cullens.
In contrast, what James does with Christian is interesting. It isn’t necessarily good, but it is interesting. Like Edward, Christian is unbelievably good looking; he mournfully plays the piano and is initially cold to the protagonist to protect her from himself. Both men struggle to control themselves, carnally, around their romantic interests but can’t help but be drawn to them (72). In Twilight, one of the key aspects of Bella and Edward’s relationship is unequal distribution of power between them. As a wealthy century-old vampire, Edward is inherently more powerful than Bella; he, not infrequently, physically menaces with his vampire speed and strength. Christian, lacking vampire superpowers, is just really, really ridiculously rich. And like Edward, who has been stuck in a teenage body since the Jazz Age, Christian is “old before his time. He doesn’t talk like a man of twentysomething” (19).
Both men are also dangerous and warn the protagonist away from them. Edward tells Bella that he wants to drink her and can barely restrain himself from killing her (she doesn’t care, because, you know, he’s hot). Christian also warns Ana away, telling her “Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you” (49). Christian is described as “scary” (21) and “dangerous” (39,101, 501); he described as “predatory,” like “a panther or mountain lion all unpredictable” (250) and Ana admits to being afraid of him (394). While it is Edward’s vampirism that makes him a monster (as Xander Harris of Buffy the Vampire Slayer helpfully reminds us, “Vampires are monsters! They make monster movies about them!” (“Intervention”)), Christian, according to the book is a monster, not because he is a wealthy white male in the pre-#MeToo years, but as a result of his predilection for BDSM, “the monster who possesses whips and chains in a special room” (102).
I want to take a minute to clarify here. Engaging in BDSM does not make a person a monster. But as studies have shown, what Christian does isn’t BDSM; it’s abuse.
However, while the text insists that his kink makes Christian monstrous, it also demonstrates that he is dangerous because he is abusive to Ana. While in Twilight, Edward’s abuse of Bella is almost entirely subtextual, in Fifty Shades it becomes text. Edward stalks Bella under the guise of protecting her, while Christian stalks Ana openly; he shows up at her place of work (26), tracks her cell phone to a bar (62), knows what flight she is taking to visit her mother (389), as well as the addresses of her home and that of her family members (he also claims that it was protect her (67)). Unlike Bella, Ana actually calls him a “stalker” (295), and though this doesn’t change his behavior, at least it is recognized for what it is. In addition to the physical abuse for breaking one of his rules (275, 503), like Edward, he attempts to separate her from her friends (132) and wants to control almost every aspect of her body, what she eats, wears, and waxes (172). Also like Edward, he is possessive and overly jealous (148), and uses her emotional vulnerability (233) and sexual inexperience to manipulate her (201). When his abuse gets out of hand and she becomes upset, he blames her for not objecting (295) or presents Ana with a grand romantic gesture of apology (285-289,509).
The wildest thing about this representation of abuse is how overt it is in the text. Upon seeing Christian’s Red Room of Pain, Ana thinks “He likes to hurt women” (100). She might be thinking about BDSM, but her observation accurately reflects his abusive nature. Later she recognizes, “All the warning signs were there, I was just too clueless and enamored to notice” (280). Yes, Ana, all the warning signs were there. But Ana is not the only woman to be in an abusive relationship and not recognize it as such, to excuse and romanticize her abuser’s behavior. After, all, isn’t that what happened to Bella?
And now we come to what makes Fifty Shades of Grey so frustrating. It’s not the bad writing or the silly erotica. It’s not even the weak characterization and rampant consumerism. It’s that the book was so close to making a real point about the toxicity of Bella and Edward’s relationship, but instead romanticizes and normalizes it. Ana leaves at the end of the first novel, but, like Bella, she ends up marrying her abuser. Ana questions and challenges Christian’s behavior, but the text reaffirms it by explaining it away through a trauma narrative and retaining him as the romantic hero. Ana falls into the same trap as Bella, and the reader is invited to fall with her, to fantasize about a man like Christian. Fifty Shades offers an interpretation that presents Edward and Bella’s relationship as abusive, but then doesn’t do anything to challenge it.
“Intervention.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fifth Season, written by Jane Epsenson, directed by Michael Gershman, Warner Brothers, 2001.
James, E.L. Fifty Shades of Grey. Vintage, 2012.
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge, 1992.
—. “How Fan Fiction Can Teach Us a New Way to Read Moby-Dick (Part One).” Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins, 11 August 2008, http://henryjenkins.org/2008/08/how_fan_fiction_can_teach_us_a.html.
McCain, Katherine E. Canon Vs. ‘Fanon’: Genre Devices in Contemporary Fanfiction. Masters Thesis, Georgetown University, 2015.
Meyers, Stephanie. Twilight. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
Thomas, Bronwen. “What Is Fanfiction and Why Are People Saying Such Nice Things about It??” Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies, vol. 3, 2011, pp. 1-24.
Van Steenhuyse, Veerle. Canon, Fantext, and Creativity: An Analysis of Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman as “Fanfictional Response to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, MA Thesis, Ghent University, 2009.
After reading the profic derived from Gone with the Wind, I decided to check out some of the fanfiction written about the novel and its film adaptation. Gone With the Wind is one of the smaller fandoms I’ve looked at (with the exception of a few very popular books series, like Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games books tend to attract less fanfiction than television (and film less than both, probably because many film series are adapted from books, and one standalone film simply gives fans les to work with); also FanFiction.net does archive over four thousand stories about the Bible!!!! which I was very temped to explore). Fanfiction.net has close to a thousand stories based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel, and Archive of Our Own has just under 200 (ff.net is ten years older than AO3, which might account for some of the disparity in the number of stories).
I want to be upfront about my reading experiences: I did not enjoy a lot of it. The fault, though, is not in the fic writers, I think, as much as it is in the source material. Just as fans’ love for the source material informs their reading of fanfic, my dislike of it informed mine. I just have too many problems with Mitchell’s novel to enjoy the fanfiction about it. So I’m afraid I’m going to be ubercritical in this post, and I want to post a disclaimer that this fanfiction is not worse than or more problematic than others (I ship Spuffy; I know what it is to love an unhealthy and problematic relationship), but it is simply not for me.
Okay, so to begin with one thing I did like (before I start my bitching): the slash and femslash. The couple of slash stories I read, “Five Things That Never Happened to Ashley Wilkes” by bonibaru and “Rescue” by GoodJanet, focused on a romantic relationship between Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler. The stories imply that Rhett’s feelings of animosity toward Ashley are not because of Scarlett’s affection for him nor are they due to Ashley’s general uselessness, but because of Rhett’s desire for him. More interesting than Rhett and Ashley though are stories about female same-sex relationships. These stories, many of which focus on Melanie Wilkes and Scarlett O’Hara, explore the dynamics of the women’s domestic and sexual relationship. They also offer an interesting take on Eve Sedgwick’s interpretation of love triangles: in this case, it is the body of Ashley Wilkes that is serving as the conduit of Scarlett and Melanie’s homosocial/homoerotic desire. (This idea appeals to me, I think, because Ashley is so boring, and I don’t understand why everyone is in love with him—one of the two things I agree with Rhett about.)
The most common pairing, though, is Scarlett/Rhett. Most of these stories seem to be written by shippers, who want to rewrite the ending of the Mitchell’s saga to find a way for Rhett and Scarlett to end up together (readers of my last post know my feelings about Gone with the Wind’s “great love story,” so I am not the intended audience for these fics). Many of them offer a reconciliation between the characters. For example, the summary of “A Thousand Tomorrows” by Phantom710 promises readers that the story “picks up initially a month after ‘Frankly My Dear…’ and then moves forward to almost a year later, when Rhett and Scarlett encounter each other in Atlanta for the first time. This isn’t a quick finish. If there is ever going to be a happy ending between them, a lot must happen.” This summary lets reader know that they can expect a slow burn, but that reconciliation is likely.
Other stories insert a reconciliation into Mitchell’s plot, presenting an AU departure from the events in the canon. In WordOnFire76’s “A Chance Encounter,” Rhett comes home to find Scarlett in the bath. Smut ensues and then the characters declare their feelings: “He had no idea how he had gotten here, how his marriage had been turned upside down and then one chance encounter had suddenly turned it right again.” Likewise, in “Awaiting the Voice of Scarlett” by YourAverageRomanticSidekick, Rhett and Scarlett are reconciled when she calls out for him while recovering from her miscarriage. The story follows some of the conventions of the hurt/comfort genre; Scarlett’s physical injuries and semi-conscious state make her vulnerable and open in a way that she usually is not. TheCrimsonLetter’s “Without Pretense” imagines the mutual pining of the characters as Rhett travels during a time of marital estrangement, both characters realizing how much they care for each other during their absence, which leads to confessions of affection and reconciliation once Rhett returns.
Some Rhett/Scarlett fanfics explore and expand on the night of Ashley’s birthday party. In the novel, Mitchell’s description suggests that Rhett rapes Scarlett; she resists his sexual advances, but he forces himself on her without her consent. The morning after, Scarlett, problematically, reflects that she enjoyed the previous evening. This message is, of course, dangerous because it suggests that even if a woman loudly and clearly says “no,” she secretly wants it anyway or that a man can fuck a woman in wanting to have sex with him. Both of these messages perpetuates and justifies rape culture.
Unfortunately, the two stories that deal with this section of the novel end up reinforcing Mitchell’s problematic sexual politics. Both eroticize the rape and both are in Rhett’s POV. We could argue that we have an unreliable narrator, that he sees Scarlett’s desire because that’s what he wants to see, but if that is the case, more could be done to challenge his reliability. In “The Midnight on Your Lips” by lostrocket, Rhett proceeds with every intent to rape Scarlett, but then he realizes that she is aroused:
“He slid two fingers between Scarlett’s thighs and his heart stopped when they came away slick with her arousal. The urgent need to dominate her, own her, possess her the only way he could was transformed by the wet proof of her desire for him. When his heart started beating again it made his chest feel full to bursting. Awareness of her crept slowly, edgewise around his senses, through the black angry haze and blind desire. He saw her slim fingers twisted in the sheets. Her legs were scissoring restlessly, the bare skin whispering against his pant legs. Her hips lifted, following his hand as he pulled it back. He heard her whimper, softly, a timid sound that pierced him through.”
The story suggests that her arousal means that she loves and desires him; however, women can become physically aroused during a rape, while not consenting to sex. Rhett reads Scarlett’s body as desiring and consenting to intimacy, but it could also be a physical reflex to protect against injury to the vagina or genital region. This message is dangerous because it confuses a physical response with actual consent.
The rest of the story continues with confessions of feelings and rough, but loving sex. Though at the end of the story, Rhett asks Scarlett if he has hurt her. She responds with “I’m fine,” heavily implying that, yes, he did. Rhett expresses guilt, but then again, a lot of abusers feel and behave that way.
“Control” by WhoIsYourHeroDoloresHaze does a better job. It is labeled as dubcon (dubious consent) and has a “rape/non-con” warning. And is tagged as “unhealthy relationship” and “morally questionable but sexy as hell lets be real.” WhoIsYourHeroDoloresHaze explicitly recognizes that this is trash smut; it is problematic, but still “sexy.” Like “The Midnight on Your Lips,” Scarlett’s physical arousal is read as desire for sexual intercourse, even though the story acknowledges that her body is acting of its “own volition.” And like “The Midnight on Your Lips,” “Control” abruptly switches from rape to consensual sex as Rhett goes from “I will appreciate my wife’s body if I damn well please, Scarlett” to “I’m not going to make love to a wife who does not want to do the same” over the space of four paragraphs.
Both of these stories shift from violence and rape to a focus on Scarlett’s sexual pleasure, but the implication remains the same as in the source material—if a woman says “no,” you can force her into wanting to have sex with you. Both were uncomfortable for me to read, especially because were from a male POV.
Also uncomfortable for me to read were stories that presented the characters in BDSM relationships. My intention here is not to kink shame. In most cases, I enjoy reading BDSM stories and believe that people should do whatever makes them sexually happy.
But the context of this story makes it uncomfortable because of the source material’s treatment of slavery. As I explained in my previous blog post, Mitchell’s novel does it’s best to make the case for why slavery wasn’t so bad. Slaves, she argues, like being slaves, want to be slaves, and would have no idea what to do with themselves if they were not slaves. And the slave owners, Mitchell’s story goes, were such nice people and they treated their slaves so well.
Given this context, in which the brutality and dehumanization of slavery is erased, it is uncomfortable to read some of those same images and discourses being appropriated as erotic. For example, the story “Scarlett and Mistress Melly” implies a master/slave dynamic, but one that is mutually pleasurable (unlike, you know, real slavery). And “If You Want It, You Can Have It,” which takes its cues from Rhett’s line “I’ve always though a good lashing with a buggy whip would benefit you immensely,” Rhett whips Scarlett and they both get off on it. Here, too, the iconography of slavery is appropriated and becomes eroticized, ignoring the historical legacy of whipping slaves, which both characters previously own. Even if they never personally whipped slaves, Scarlett and Rhett participated in and benefited from the institution that sanctioned it. In the novels, neither character challenges or even questions the institution of slavery (in fact, Rhett eventually fights to defend it). So to see the characters whip each other for erotic pleasure is problematic.
As I said, in most cases, I am fine with BDSM. But when the reality of slavery is erased from the source text and this discourse and these images are applied to the bodies of white characters and presented as erotic … it just doesn’t work for me. And I guess that demonstrates one of the perils of the intertextuality of fanfiction. In many cases, it presents opportunities. But it is not without its baggage. And different readers are going to carry the baggage in different ways.
Bonibaru. “Five Things That Never Happened to Ashley Wilkes.” 13 September 2017.
GoodJanet. “Rescue.” Archive of Our Own. 21 July 2016.
Lostrocket. “The Midnight on Your Lips.” Archive of Our Own. 23 April 2015.
Phantom710. “A Thousand Tomorrows.” Archive of Our Own. 31 May 2018.
Ronsparkyspeirs. “If You Want It, You Can Have It.” 29 July 2017.
The_hidden_agenda. “Scarlett and Mistress Melly.” 4 August 2018.
TheCrimsonLetter. “Without Pretense.” 7 June 2016.
WhoIsYourHeroDoloresHaze. “Control.” Archive of Our Own 23 February 2018.
WorldOnFire76. “A Chance Encounter.” Archive of Our Own. 23 February 2017.
YourAverageRomanticSidekick. “Awaiting the Voice of Scarlett.” Archive of Our Own. 17 February 2014.
In a previous post, I discussed the difficulty of defining fanfiction, especially when it comes to distinguishing fanfic from profic. In this post, I take a look at Margret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and two derivative works of profic based off of it: Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley and The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall. I want to analyze the relationship between the original work and the novels it informed, and how it relates to the types of fanfiction that I discussed in my four-part series.
Despite its outdated and offensive racial and gender politics, Gone with the Wind is an enduring classic, whose legacy was undoubtedly helped by its 1939 film adaptation starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Reading the novel in 2018 is cringe-inducing. The romaticization of slavery, the brutal and blatant racism, the misogyny. The slaves all love being divested of their humanity and agency; they adore the people who treat them like property and objects. This is perhaps understandable, because in
the novel slavery is presented as benevolent. No slaves are raped or beaten; in fact, the novel suggests that black slaves “own” the whites “body and soul” (42, 152). Once freed, the “good” former slaves stay beside their former masters and continue to serve them; the bad embrace their freedom and attack white women. The n-word is used frequently. The Ku Klux Klan is not only justified, but glorified (613). The romantic hero consistently belittles and negs the heroine, threatens her (832), and, eventually, rapes her (871). Women are wed and bred at fifteen and sixteen years old; Rhet tells Scarlett that he wanted her from the first time he saw her, when she was a girl of sixteen and he was a man of thirty-three (328). Gross.
Then there is the protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara. Throughout the novel, Scarlett needs to be the center of attention. She is manipulative, ruthless, and a narcissist. She marries three men for monetary gain. While that choice is understandable, given the financially precarious position of women in this society, the Machiavellian tactics that she uses, especially to ensnare Mr. Kennedy, who had promised to wed her sister when he had saved up enough money, are not (560). She has no empathy for those around her, but always positions herself as the victim. No one has suffered the way that she has, and no one is as deserving as her (557). And while it is true that she goes through tremendous trauma in the novel, she exhibits her selfishness and viciousness well before Atlanta burns or Tara starves. The war and reconstruction only give her an excuse to behave the way she does. She does break with social conventions that are oppressive to women, like setting up in business and doing math, but these things are never done out of a feminist impulse to defy society, but to satisfy her own self-interest. She never does anything to help the other women around her, white or of color. It is perhaps not surprising that a number of critics has suggested that she suffers from a histrionic personality disorder. The symptoms certainly seem to line up.
Excuses for the novel have been made: “It was written in a different time and about a different time.” And this is true, though I don’t believe that it excuses the content of the novel nor that it makes its representation okay. The conditions of its production certain don’t make the text any less racist nor do they make its racism acceptable. However, we might turn to some more contemporary derivative works to consider how these issues are handled and how they comment on the original novel.
Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett was published in 1991 and offers a relatively uncritical continuation of the original plot. It has a “more of” relationship to the original text (Pugh), expanding, as Jenkins might explain, the story’s timeline. It begins where Gone with the Wind left off and follows Scarlett from Melanie’s graveside to Charleston to Savannah to Ireland, and eventually, into Rhett’s arms.
Scarlett avoids charges of racism by largely removing black characters from the story. Mammie, who was flattened in Mitchell’s novel to a stereotype, dies in the first part of the novel (25). The offensive dialect given to black characters, and notably not white in Gone with the Wind, is removed from Ripley’s version. Once Scarlett leaves for Ireland, she doesn’t encounter another person of color. Erasing characters of color from Scarlett’s story so that the uncomfortable issue of slavery doesn’t have to be dealt with doesn’t make the novel less racist. It just conceals the racism of the original text
Once Scarlett crosses the Atlantic many of her interactions are with the Irish peasant class. The novel does address colonial oppression of the Irish by the English, illustrating the brutality of the British landlords and their overseers (553, 611, 720-722), but it doesn’t present the Irish in a great light either. They are uneducated, superstitious (560, 572, 716, 730), and ungrateful for everything that Scarlett, as The O’Hara, has done for them (734, 767, 814, 816-17) (yes, Scarlett actually spends her money to help other people; an act of altruism that would baffle the version of her in Mitchell’s original text).
The novel is also paradoxical in how it treats the gender norms of the time. Scarlett dispenses with her restrictive corsets, which coincides with her heel-face-turn to becoming a better person (I guess being able to breath makes her nicer). She becomes the head of the O’Hara clan, a great landowner, and rejects the conventions of being a lady (548). She runs her own estate and handles the expenses. But while in Ireland, she also embraces conventional female roles that she had traditionally rejected, including motherhood. Part of the softening of her character is that all of the sudden she loves being a mom (583- 84), and she puts her children’s needs and happiness above her own (previously she just wanted to get rid of them) (626-628).
The romantic plotline of the novel is also troubling. Scarlett spends the entirety of the novel pining for Rhett. Most, although not all her actions, are motivated by her desire to win him back. She travels to Charleston and insinuates herself in his mother’s house to beguile him (120). When she flirts with men during the season, it is to make him jealous (219). She angles to get him alone so that she can seduce him. She hangs around Savanah, hoping that he will come for her (421).
Even when she is not actively attempting to reconcile with Rhett, he is still the primary motivation for her actions. She decides to stay in Ireland to hide his daughter from him (659). Even her decision to marry Lord Fenton is a reaction to hearing that Rhett’s new wife is pregnant (793). While she does make her own decisions in the novel, they are often in reaction to Rhett.
So it is not a surprise when the novel ends with them reuniting, no matter how improbable the circumstances that eventually bring them together. The entire novel is making the argument that Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship is not toxic, but destined, meant to be, a love story for the ages. In order to achieve this, both of their characters are softened considerably to make them more likable and their relationship less disturbing. Rhett belittles and mocks her not because he is a jerk, but because he is vulnerable and afraid. Once Scarlett breaks free of the repressive staves of her society, she becomes a person capable of love. Theirs is a great romance, the novel argues. In short, Ripley ships it.
While Ripley’s novel comes off as fangirling, Alice Randall is clearly not a fan. The Wind Done Gone, published in 2001, tells the story of Cynarae, Scarlett’s half-sister, the product of Gerald O’Hara raping Mammie. Randall’s novel is critical of the ideology, racism, and politics that informs Gone with the Wind, and by shifting the perspective of the novel is able to level these critiques through the story it tells. It explores the parts of slavery that Mitchell attempts to erase: the rape, the whipping, the beatings, the separation of families. It gives voice to the people of color who are dismissed, ignored, or stereotyped in the original novel, telling their stories and speaking their names. (Randall plays with the convention of slave owners forcibly renaming people of color, divesting them of names and identities; Cynarae renames all of the characters in the novel so that Gerald is “Planter,” Scarlett is “Other, and Rhett is R.)
The novel also explores the way in which race was socially constructed in the South. Cynarae is light skinned and can live as white, but she views herself as black, no matter what her pigmentation is (158). On the other hand, it is revealed that Ellen O’Hara, who had lived most of her life as white had a black ancestor (124). The one drop rule of the South, then, decrees that she too is of color, though she is allowed live to white as long as no one finds out. The entire racial hierarchy is deconstructed and shown to be a lie.
The (supposed) romance of Gone with the Wind is also undercut by Randall’s novel. Rhett, we learn, was never in love with Scarlett, but with her half-sister. However, though he claims to love Cynarae, his attraction to her is surface level. He makes no attempt to understand her (27) or even learn her true name (193). At the end of the novel, she leaves him for a congressman of color, deciding that she would rather be the mistress to a man who can understand her than the wife of a man who won’t (197).
So, we have two derivative works, based off of the same novel, telling very different stories that present very different interpretations of the original. It is worth noting the different way that Mitchell’s estate responded to the two novels. The covers of the novels reveal the disparate treatment of the texts.
Under the title Scarlett, Ripley’s novel is embossed with
“The Sequel to Margret Mitchell’s
Gone with the Wind
Now Celebrating its 75th Anniversary”
The Mitchell estate not only allowed but endorsed the novel, tying it directly back to its source material.
Not so for The Wind Done Gone. Copies of the book are stamped with the emblem “The Unauthorized Parody.” Parodies are protected under
Fair Use and this label is likely an attempt to get around copyright law. Mitchell’s estate reportedly sued Randall, though the case was eventually settled. Still, the book is disavowed as unauthorized, disowned by the estate in much the same way that Planted disowned his black daughter.
These two very different responses demonstrate some of the legal landmines that accompany derivative works. If an author likes your interpretation of their novel you might get an endorsement; if they don’t, you might get sued. In the case of Gone with the Wind, this also has an unfortunate, and perhaps unintentional, racial component. Alexandra Ripley is white; Alice Randall is black. According to the estate, one of those women has the right to speak, the other does not. Not great optics for a novel that has aged as poorly as Mitchell’s racist, apologist depiction of the South.
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge, 1992.
Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind. 1936 New York, Scribner, 1996.
Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan fiction in a literary context. Bridgend, seren, 2005
Randall, Alice. The Wind Done Gone. New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Ripley, Alexandra. Scarlett. New York, Grand Central Publishing, 1991.
In my last blog post, I detailed terms associated with fandom. In this post, I want to look at terms that are specific to writing and reading fanfiction.
Enjoying fanfiction often means finding and reading the right stories, and avoiding the wrong ones. Within fandom, right and wrong are not necessarily correlated with good and bad writing (although fans do tend to prefer well-written stories) but with the content of that writing. While some sites, like FanFction.net, have limited filters that can be applied to searches, Archive of Our Own (AO3) allows users to customize tags, making them very specific to the story. However, in order to navigate tags, readers need to familiarize themselves with the jargon of fic. Do you prefer het or slash? Do you want smut or a slow burn? Would you prefer an AU set in the omega ‘verse or high school (or an omega ‘verse high school)? Although “tag wranglers” will link similar search terms, fans need a shared code so that readers can find fics that best fit their interests.
Consider this story on AO3 by CaptainMercy42. The writer is providing a lot of very useful information, but readers need to have the vocabulary to decipher it.
Gen: Gen is a shorted form of “general” and refers to fic where the primary focus is not on romantic relationships. These stories might feature action/adventure plotlines or be focused on character friendships.
Het: Het is a shortened version of “heterosexual” and indicates a story with heteronormative romantic pairings.
Slash: The term slash originates from fans’ use of a slash to indicate a
romantic relationship in a story. For example, if I am looking for a Supernatural fic, “Dean, Sam” indicates a story in which both brothers are present, but “Dean/Sam” let’s me know that it is Wincest—Sam and Dean in a romantic relationship. Although heterosexual pairings are also indicated by a slash (Buff/Spike), the term slash refers specifically to same-sex, generally male-identifying, pairings. Slash fiction originates from the Star Trek fandom and the relationship between Kirk and Spock. It remains common today, especially in fandoms formed around male-centric stories, like Supernatural,Lord of the Rings, and Sherlock.
Femslash: Like slash, femslash refers to the representation of a same-sex pairing. In femslash, though, the pairing is between two female-identifying characters.
WIP: WIP is an acronym for “Work in Progress.” The publication of most longer fanfic is serialized, usually broken up into chapters. This practice helps readers, who might be overwhelmed by a 254,000 word fic, to read novel-lengthen works by segmenting them into more manageable chunks. It also helps the writer to attract new readers—the story refreshes at the top of the archive page each time it is updated. In many, though not all cases, the writer has not entirely finished the work when she or he begins publishing it. There are some stories that are abandoned by writers who either get stuck with the plot or no longer have the free time to write and remain unfinished (I have one or two of them kicking around). For that reason, some fans have an aversion to WIP stories.
OOC: An acronym for “Out of Character.” As Sheegan Pugh notes, because fanfic writers and readers are so invested in the characters of a media property, being told by other fans that a character is OOC is a fairly harsh critique. However, it worth noting that not all fans have the same interpretations of characters, so that characters that might seem OOC to some fans, will be in keeping with the interpretations of others (Pugh 70-71). Fans might indicate their interpretations of characters through story tags like “jerk!Xander” or “Dany is the Mad Queen.”
OC: Not to be confused with OOC, OC refers to a prominently featured original character. These are characters that do not appear in the source text, but are including in a fan’s fic. OCs can be used to present a new, sometimes outsider, perspective on the media property’s universe or might be instrumental to the plot of the story. Fans are sometimes reticent to put original characters in their stories because they do not want to risk writing a Mary Sue.
Mary Sue: The term Mary Sue originates from Star Trek fandom. Camile Bacon-Smith explains that a Mary Sue “is young and desirable, competent and moral. Her intellectual and physical attributes not only meet the writer’s standard for the perfect woman, but the people she admires appreciate her value as well” (97). A Mary Sue is an overly idealized woman: she is intelligent, beautiful, capable, skilled, and every male character falls madly in love with her. Often viewed as an author avatar, these characters are derided across fandoms. While the term originated in Star Trek fanfiction, on occasion, fans will use the term to deride canonical characters. For example, Bella Swan from the Twilight series shares many idealized characteristics with fans’ Mary Sues, and many people consider her to be an author avatar for Stephanie Meyers. A male version of this trope, Harry Stu, does exist, but the label is much more likely to be applied to original female characters.
AU: AU is an acronym for Alternative Universe, a label used to indicate to readers that the story will diverge from the source texts’ canon. There are two prominent approaches to this divergence. The first is to ignore or rewrite events in the canon, while maintain the canonical setting and world building. In these stories, writers ask “what if Buffy had never returned to Sunnydale after season two?” or “what if Harry’s parents had not been murdered by Voldemort?” Then based on what the writer knows about the characters and the world of the source text, they extrapolate an answer.
The second AU approach is to take characters from the setting and genre of one story and put them into a different one. The characters and their relationships stay intact, but fans have the opportunity to explore different facets of them. AU stories might remove supernatural or science fiction elements (called “all-human” AU) or introduce them a more realistic source text. Subgenres of this form of AU include Modern AU, High school/College AU, Historical AU, Coffee Shop AU, Fairytale AU, and Omega ‘verse AU (See below).
PWP: An acronym for “Plot? What plot?,” these stories tend to be focused on characters’ relationships rather than the events of the story. Initially, these stories could focus on any aspect of the relationship, but the term has now come to more specifically connote smut or erotica.
Real-Person Fic (Celebrity Fic): These stories are fictional accounts of real people. They used to be considered taboo in fandom, but have come to be more widely accepted. In these stories, fans fictionalize (and often sexualize) the relationships between celebrities, often the actors working on the set of a television show or film or musicians in a band together. Writers are clear that this is not what they believe is actually happening between these celebrities, but some members of fan communities object to these stories, viewing them as invasive. Others feel that they are relatively harmless, because it is unlikely that the celebrities they are written about will ever encounter them and they are recognized as fictional accounts. (See Kristina Busse, “My Life Is a WIP on My LJ”)
RPS: An acronym for “Real Person Slash,” the stories focus on same-sex romantic relationships between celebrities, generally actors on set or members in a boyband. Like Real-PersonFics (described above), these stories are about fictionalized versions of real people, not fictional characters.
Hurt/Comfort: Hurt/Comfort is a subgenre of fanfiction. In these stories, one character has been emotionally, physically, or sexually harmed, and the other offers care and comfort. This genre tends to use physical or psychological damage to make a generally tough and closed off character more vulnerable and open. Hurt/Comfort can be used to deepen friendships between characters, but it is more often a way to get characters to recognize (and even sometimes admit) the feelings that they have for one another. Sometimes Hurt/Comfort stories result in sex between the two characters; sometimes they do not. If sex is included, it is generally used to illustrate the increased intimacy between the characters. (See Bacon-Smith for a fuller discussion of the genre).
Slow Burn: The term slow burn is used to describe the pace of romantic development between characters in a fic. If a story is described as a slow burn, you can expect that it will take chapters and chapters for characters to discover their attraction, and even longer to act on it. This trope is in direct contrast with love-at-first-sight or insta-love clichés, and these stories also tend to include “mutual pining” and may also be tagged as “friends to lovers.” The slow pace of romantic development allows fans to explore characters more fully and to develop the reasons for and foundation of their romantic relationship.
Fluff: The term fluff is used to describe feel-good stories that focus on the affection between characters. Fluff often, though not necessarily, refers to romantic relationships, though the tag might also be applied to friendships. These stories often do not have much in the way of conflict or plot, but are meant to give positive, uplifting feels.
Angst: The opposite of fluff. In angst stories, conflict abounds. They might be dark, bitter, and depressing. Most longer stories will combine fluff with angsty misunderstandings, sometimes as a way to prolong the slow burn.
Smut: Stories that include sexually explicit scenes. In some cases, smut will be incorporated into a larger narrative as a way to explore characters’ growing romantic intimacy. In PWP stories, the entire story is smut. On sites like Archive of Our Own, fans will include additional tags to let readers know what kind of sexually content to expect from the story (for example, cunninglus, mutual masturbation, light BSDM, spanking, etc.).
Alpha/Beta/Omega (A/B/O; Omega ‘verse): Generally considered a kink trope, the Alpha/Beta/Omega tag refers to a specific genre of AU set in a ‘verse with a bio-socio-sexual hierarchy. One’s place within this hierarchy is biologically determined and dictates both social and sexual behavior. Same sex intercourse and male pregnancy are built into the Omega ‘verse, and tends to be associated with slash pairings and mpreg stories. However, women can also take on alpha, beta, and omega roles, and alpha women can impregnate omega men. Alphas tend to be dominant and aggressive; they are the ones doing the impregnating. Betas are subordinate to the alpha’s but dominant over omegas. In some stories they can impregnate Omegas, in some they can’t. Omegas are the lowest members of the hierarchy and can be impregnated by Alphas. Characters may also be tagged as alpha, betas, or omegas, as in “Alpha Dean,” “Omega Sherlock.” While often fans will assign the roles of alpha, beta, and omega depending on their interpretations of characters, in other instances, writers will pay with characters, making usually dominant or aggressive characters omegas. (For more information see Omegaverse Explanation and Guide.)
MPreg: Stories that feature male pregnancy. These pregnancies might be biologically, like what we find in the Omega ‘verse, magically, or technologically explained within the logic of the story. Tags will frequently also let readers know which partner is going to be impregnated.
Busse, Kristina. “My Life is a WIP on My LJ: Slashing the Slasher and the Reality of Celebrity and Internet Performances.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, Ed. Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, McFarland, 2006.
Bacon-Smith, Camille. Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context. Poetry Wales Press, 2005.
Pupperlover857. “Omegaverse Explanation and Guide!” Deviantart.com, 18 March 2014, https://www.deviantart.com/puppylover857/journal/Omegaverse-Explanation-and-Guide-441250200.
“When I was reading ASOIF, I totally used to ship Jonerys, but ever since watching AGoT, Jonsa is my OTP. They’re such cinnamon rolls. So many feels!!!!”
This sentence is likely impenetrable to anyone who hasn’t spent much time investigating or participating fandom. Even people who belong to specific fan communities, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Harry Potter, while able to discern some of these terms, might not be familiar with all of them. Welcome to the wild world of fan slang.
Fandom, like all communities, has developed its own slang, a lexicon of fan jargon that separates insider from outsiders. In fact, many books on fan studies include a glossary of fan terms to help uninitiated academics navigate fandom specific words and acronyms. There are some terms that pervade across fandoms, like canon, fanon, OTP, and ship, while others, most commonly ship names, are fandom-specific. As fans migrate from one fan community to another or join intrafandom communities, like SuperWhoLock, they introduce new terms into these subcommunties, which may, or may not, be adopted and gain larger traction within other fandoms.
Canon: In fan communities, canon refers to the official material that makes up the story and universe of the media property. Determining what counts as canon can be tricky. For example, in the Buffy fandom, the television show (1997-2003) counts as canon; however, most fans ignore or reject the 1992 film. Some fans accept the comics (which have not been read by the majority) as canon, others don’t count them. Officially sanctioned novels and other media spin-offs, too, hold an ambiguous position within the canon. Other fandoms, like Harry Potter, debate whether insights and material from author interviews count as canon. For example, is it canon that Dumbledore is gay or that Harry and Tom Riddle are related?
Fanon: Fanon refers to beliefs held by the fan community that are not supported by the property’s canon. Fanon can develop backstories for characters, provide them with more emotional depth, expand world building, or resolve plot holes or inconsistencies in the media property. For example, it is fanon in the Buffy fan community that vampires will mate with a specific human, marking that human by biting them. The mark binds the human and vampire together. It never happens in the show, which treats vampire bites erotic but not binding. However, it does occur in a lot of Buffy fanfiction. Fanon can also include fan theories that are widely accepted by the fan community, like A Song of Ice and Fire’s R+L=J theory, which although not confirmed in the novels, is widely accepted as fact (and has been affirmed by the HBO television series adaption). When theories like these are confirmed, they move from fanon to official canon. In other cases, they are “Jossed,” and disproven (the term is a play on Joss Whedon, who has a habit of doing this to fans).
Head-Canon: Head-Canon is basically individualized fanon. Like fanon, it is not necessarily supported by the show’s canon, and is often used to fill in plot holes, continuity issues, character behavior, or other incongruities found within the canon. However, unlike fanon, which has wider acceptance within the fan community, head-canon tends to be held only by the individual. In some cases, like the example below, head-canon is used to intensify the emotions or relations of characters. These head canons might result in feels (see below).
Ship: Ship refers to a romantic or sexual pairing between two characters. Ship can be used as a verb, as in “I ship them,” or as a noun in reference to a relationship, “the good ship Bethyl.” The term shipper refers to a person in support of the romantic relationship, and shipping is used to describe the practice. Generally, ships are not formed around canonical relationships, but by picking up on subtextual cues between characters. Fans become emotionally invested in seeing the characters eventually get together and will
look for clues in the media property that this will occur. Because fans are eager to interpret the text as supporting their ship, they run the risk of wearing shipping goggles, a term used to recognize the subjectivity of shipper interpretations. Some ships become canon; others do not. Within fandoms, ship wars can break out when ships are mutually exclusive. For example, in the A Game of Thrones fandom, arguments break out between fans who want to see Jon Snow with Daenerys Targaryen and those who think he should marry Sansa Stark.
Ships are often identified though portmanteaus combining the characters’ names. Jaenerys refers to the Jon/Daenerys pairing and Jonsa is Jon and Sansa. Spike and Buffy fans ship “Spuffy” and those who want to see the Slayer with Angel are into Bangel. In some fandoms, other short hand is used. For example, while the Once Upon a Time fan do have ships like Bellefire (Belle and Balefire) and Rumbelle (Belle and Rumpelstiltskin), others have names like Captain Swan (Captain Hook and Emma Swan), Outlaw Queen (Regina (aka the evil queen) and Robin Hood), and Brave Warrior (Merida and Mulan). In this naming convention, identifiers tend to be consistent so that Emma Swan is always indicated by “Swan” and Regina Mills is always “Queen.”
OTP: OTP stands for “One True Pairing” and indicates a fan’s favorite pairing within a fandom. While a fan might ship multiple pairings, the OTP tends to be the primary relationship featured in fanfiction or posts, while other relationships take a more secondary, supporting role. For example, fans whose OPT is Jonsa might also ship Robbaery (Margaery Tyrell and Robb Stark), Gendrya (Arya Stark and Gendry Waters), and Lannistarth (Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth), and those ships might appear in their fanfiction, but the focus is on Jon and Sansa and their relationship.
Variations on the phrase are also used by fans. NOTP (Not One True Pairing) is used to refer to ships that the fan does not endorse. And BROTP indicates a fan’s favorite masculine (nonromantic) friendship.
Trash Ships: Sometimes a ship is problematic in some way. Perhaps the relationship is incestuous or canonically abusive. Maybe there is a troubling power dynamic between the characters. It’s unhealthy or toxic. Fanfiction written about these couples tends to be angsty and dark. But fans ship it anyway. These are trash ships. Unlike crackships (see below), fans are genuinely invested in these pairings, even though they recognize that they are troubling, problematic, or morally icky. The term trash ship originates from fans asserting that they are trash for shipping it, but that does not mean they are going to stop.
Crackship: While fans recognize that their OTP may not become canon, they are relatively certain that crackships will never be actualized. The term of the crackship refers to ships that are bizarre, insane, or unsettling (alluding to the fact that a fan would need to be on crack to come up with it). Crackships are generally developed as humor within the fan community, and fans will attempt to outdo each other with the absurdity of the pairings they come up with. For example, on a reddit thread, Harry Potter fans challenge each other to come up with the “worst/funniest potential” ship, like Hermione and Hagrid, Umbridge and Firenze, Neville and Bellatrix, Colin Creevey and Voldemort, and Hogwarts Castle and the Giant Squid. As Darrark, the user who initiated this thread notes, all of these pairings are “awful, either in a humorous or horrifying way.” In short, they are all crackships.
Feels: When fans watch a particularly emotional episode of a television show, look at a GIF capturing an important interaction between characters (a longing look, for example), or read a piece of fanfiction with a major character death or an OTP getting together after a long slow burn, they run the risk of having feels. Feels are the vicarious emotions that fans experience by engaging with either the source text or the artistic work of other fans. A shortened version of the word “feelings,” feels indicates emotional intensity, either positive or negative. Fans tend to represent feels as a physical assault and something completely out of our control. They tend to be overwhelming and something that we enjoy (the vicarious butterflies in the stomach that comes from watching our OTP interact) and dread (the devastation that comes with the death of a beloved character).
Cinnamon Roll: The term “cinnamon roll” originates from an article in The Onion that featured a picture of a cinnamon roll with the title “Beautiful Cinnamon Roll Too Good For This World, Too Pure.” This phrase was adopted into and spread throughout fandom as a way to describe favorite or sympathetic characters. Eventually the phrase was shortened, so that simply referring to a character as a “cinnamon roll” evoked the entire phrase.
Queerbaiting: Within many fan communities, especially those dedicated to shows, films, or novels that disproportionately focus on male characters and their relationships, fans pick up on homoerotic subtext and develop same-sex ships. When media properties self-consciously suggest, but refuse to actualize same-sex relationships, they are queerbaiting. As the term indicates, this practice is seen as a way to attract queer viewers without actually having to depict a same-sex relationship and deal with potential network or viewer backlash. Shows like Supernatural, Sherlock, and Merlin have all be accused by members of their respective (and sometimes overlapping) fan communities of queerbaiting.
TPTB: TPTB is an acronym for “The Powers That Be,” a reference to a media property’s creators. The phrase suggests that the creators have an almost god-like authority, and fans might also use the phrase “the word of god” to refer to information that is not explicitly present in the canon, but has been provided by creators in interviews or blog posts. Fans can have various reactions to the TPTB: sometimes accepting their proclamations as canon, sometimes ignoring them. TPTB might be loved with a favorite ship becomes canon, but they can also face scorn and derision if a major character dies or is represented in a way that is not in keeping with fans’ interpretations.
BNF: BNF is an acronym for “Big Name Fan.” These are popular fanfic writers, artists, podcasters, or bloggers within the fan community. Very often, these fans will develop their own fan bases and might be invited to participate in convention panels. Some BNFs have found ways to monetize their status within the fan community.
Darrak. “Worst/funniest potential Harry Potter pairing?” Reddit.com, 2014, https://www.reddit.com/r/harrypotter/comments/1wt9im/worstfunniest_potential_harry_potter_pairing/.
This blog post is Part Four in my series about the different categories of fanfiction, as outlined by Henry Jenkins. Part One can be found here, Part Two here, and Part Three here. So far, I have discussed different ways in which the story of the source text can be expanded to reveal interpretations of the characters, how fans shift perspectives and genres to get “more from” the source text (Pugh 19), and the emotional and erotic intensification found in some fanfic. This final post considers how characters are dislocated from their source text and put into different ‘verses and genres.
According to Jenkins, cross-overs “blur the boundaries between different texts” by taking characters from one text and putting them in the setting (the ‘verse) of another (170). Jenkins explains that these “stories break down not only the boundaries between texts but also those between genres, suggesting how familiar characters might function in radically different environments. ‘Cross-Overs’ also allow fans to consider how different characters from different series might interact” (171). My cross-over between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural explores the different value systems of the two shows and their varying class and gender politics.
“Welcome to the Hellmouth”
“What the hell are you doing?” Buffy said. She had been in the graveyard. With Spike. Patrolling. And there might have been some minor smoochies. Okay, major smoochies. Head-swimming, toe-curling, forget-about-heaven-and-the-pain-of-being-ripped-out-of-there smoochies. And then out of nowhere these two guys with a really unfortunate sense of fashion were pulling Spike away and threatening him with a pretty vicious looking knife.
“Back off, lady. We’ve got this,” the shorter one growled.
“You so do not.” She pulled at his arm, which currently had Spike pinned up against a crypt.
“Son of a bitch!” He shouted, as she pried his arm off and Spike slipped out of his grasp. “We’re trying to save you.”
“Okay, I know this is going to sound crazy,” said the tall one, who had hung back. “But, you see, your boyfriend here is a monster.”
There was something so patient and earnest in his tone and she couldn’t stand it. “Alright. Three things:” she said, moving between the men and Spike “One: I do not need saving. Two: He’s not my boyfriend. And three: I know he’s a vampire.”
“You tell ‘em, Goldilocks,” Spike muttered rubbing his throat. “Soddin’ bugger. That’s gonna leave a bruise.”
“We saw reports of vampire attacks in the area and came to investigate,” the tall one explained. The shorter one was trying to look like his arm wasn’t bothering him. Guess she’d been a bit rough with him. “And we saw you and him and thought he was attacking you…”
“Yeah, well he’s not gentle.” She tried not to blush; she was certain of Spike’s smirk and raised eyebrow behind her.
“You don’t seem surprised.”
“You Hardy Boys aren’t from around here, are you?” Spike drawled.
“No.” The tall one eyed him warily and the short one scowled.
“Yeah.” Buffy said, “The flannel kinda gives you away. Welcome to Sunnydale. Vampire attacks are pretty much an on the daily thing here. Or I guess nightly. Not such big fans of the sun.”
“And you…” The tall one asked.
“I slay them.”
“Didn’t look like slaying to me,” the short one scoffed.
“Yeah, well, Spike’s different.” She felt guilty enough for the things she let him do to her. The things she did to him. She wasn’t going to let some guy who looked like he did all of his shopping at Lands’ End shame her too.
“Are you trying to tell me that Billy Idol here is a good vampire?”
Spike chuckled darkly and moved to stand beside her. “Not on your life.”
“Down boy,” said Buffy, grabbing his shoulder. She directed a pointed look at the two men. “Not good. But different. And you’re not going to kill him.”
“And, you think that just because you’ve got some demented Ann Rice thing going on here that you’re going to be able to stop us.”
“Oh, I know I’ll be able to stop you.”
“Because I’m Buffy.”
In “Character Dislocation,” frequently know as Alternative Universe (AU) fics, characters are displaced in terms of genre and historical period (171). In some cases, the character names are changed, in others they stay the same. But these stories do often attempt to retain character traits and relationships, demonstrating the writer’s interpretation of them. My story dislocates the characters of Pride and Prejudice, placing them in contemporary high school, a frequent trope of AU fiction.
“That Darcy Guy”
“Oh my god,” Jane squealed as she slid into the cafeteria seat. “Have you seen the new guys?” She did not notice Charlotte Lucas, her sister’s best friend, discretely shaking her head. “Aren’t they just gorgeous?” Only then did she notice her sister’s stony expression. “What’s wrong, Liz?”
“Nothing.” Liz sat glowering, her arms crossed in front of her chest.
“It’s not nothing. You look like you’re about to literally eviscerate someone.”
“I said that it’s nothing.”
“Oh, knock it off. You can’t lie to me. It won’t work. Know you too well. So just tell me so that I don’t have to torture it out of you.”
Liz’s grim expression broke into a brief smile. “I can’t imagine you torturing anyone, Jane. You’re far too nice to be any good at it.”
“Well, then, I’ll be insufferably nice and break you that way. Anyway, you’re not going to distract me. Spill.”
“Fine. It was just one of the new guys. That Darcy guy.”
“What did he do?”
“He refused to be her partner for an English project,” Charlotte interrupted. “Poor Lizzy. It was stupid and he’s a jerk.”
“Oh,” said Jane, looking thoughtful.
“What’s with the sudden pensiveness?”
“Just something Charlie told me.”
“He’s the other one. The other new guy. His locker is right next to mine and he is really nice and funny and cute and really, really nice.”
“Shut up,” Jane said, smacking her sister’s arm. “Anyway. I asked him how he liked Netherfield High, and he said that it was great, but that he was worried about his friend. Darcy, it seems, can be a little antisocial.”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t judge too quickly,” Jane quietly demurred.
Liz sighed. “Dude, I already confessed. Stop with the insufferable niceness. The guy is a jerk. End. Of. Story.”
Finally, fanfiction can allow for a kind of “Personalization” (171), a way for fans to put themselves in the story. This self-insertion is generally done in two ways: 1) the insertion of an idealized author avatar in the form of a “Mary Sue” character (171), a practice derided throughout fandoms, or 2) through humorous metafiction (172). My story takes the latter approach as I imagine how the characters I have written about her might respond to my stories.
The author sat with her computer in front of her, her fingers moving furiously over the keys. She paused only to take a sip of the steaming Earl Grey in the mug next to her computer. “Just one more line,” she murmured. “Just one last part to tie this all together.” She bit her lower lip, and then smiled, her fingers back on the keys. “Got it.”
She was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Who the hell?” she said as got up to answer it. She wasn’t expecting visitors.
And she certainly wasn’t expecting the hoard of people that pushed their way into the front hall of her small, but cozy, home.
“We just wanted to say thanks,” said a man in a black mask that covered half of his face. “We appreciate everything you’ve done for us.”
“My dearest Westley and I are in a PG movie,” the striking woman who was clinging to the masked guy’s arm was saying. “He can barely get away with mentioning my breasts, let alone touching them. It was a real relief to be able to do something more than a single relatively caste kiss—no matter how it stacks up in the history of kisses.”
“And I’m glad someone considered my perspective for once,” said a young woman with bushy hair who was dressed in black robes. “Those boys were beastly to me for no real reason. At least until the troll…” She trailed off and then her expression, once again, became indignant. “And then a bit afterwards too, at times, like the Yule Ball. Sometimes I don’t know why I put up with them.”
“Well I’m not happy with you at all,” said a supernaturally beautiful young woman with dark hair and golden eyes. “I was supposed to live, or be undead or whatever, happily ever after. Edward is my soul mate. But you ruined it.”
“Actually, vampires don’t have souls,” interjected a young woman from the back, who was holding hands with a man with beach blond hair and long black leather jacket. “So, not so much with the soul mating.”
The author, feeling very overwhelmed, turned back to the dark-haired young woman. “Do you really think you’d be happy for an eternity with your high school boyfriend.”
“Edward loves me. He wouldn’t want to live an eternity without me, and I can’t imagine even a month without him.”
The author rolled her eyes. “Edward is an abusive chode.”
“He didn’t abuse me. He was trying to protect me.”
“Listen Stockholm, he disabled the engine in your truck, stalked you, dictated who you could be friends with, and snuck into your bedroom to watch you sleep without your knowledge or consent, all while telling you that if he lost control he would kill you because of what you do to him.”
“Okay, you may have a point,” she mumbled.
“Any other complaints,” asked the author, turning to face the crowd that had spilled over from the front hall into the living room.
“I don’t mind being political, even if it isn’t honorable,” said a sullen young man dressed in dark furs. “But you do know that Sansa’s my sister, right?”
“You know nothing, Jon Snow,” said the author. “Just wait until next season….”
“Okay, but he is definitely my brother,” said Sam. “That’s not going to change.”
The author ignored him and looked past them to where blond woman and the Billy-Idol look alike were standing in the back of the crowd. “Don’t you have anything to say?”
Buffy shrugged. “We’re canon. Can’t complain about much.”
“Wouldn’t mind a bit more shaggin’ though,” Spike said. “You tend to skip over all the fun bits. After years on network television it would be nice not to fade to black whenever things get interesting.”
“Noted,” said the author with a blush. “Anyone else?”
They all looked at her silently. There were a couple of people, some teenage girls and severe but beautiful blond woman, who hadn’t yet spoken. And now, it didn’t seem like they would.
“Well, it was great of you all to stop by, it really was,” said the author. “And I appreciate your input, though” she looked pointedly at the sullen young man, “it probably won’t change all that much. But if you don’t mind, I need to get back to my story.”
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge, 1992.
Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context. Poetry Wales Press, 2005.
This blog post is Part Three in my series about the different categories of fanfiction, as outlined by Henry Jenkins. Part One can be found here and Part Two here. In the first post, I look at different ways in which the story of the source text can be expanded to reveal interpretations of the characters. Part Two looks at how fans shift perspectives and genres to get “more from” the source text (Pugh 19). This post considers the emotional and erotic intensification found in some fanfic.
In “emotional intensification” stories, fans focus on character affect and relationships (Jenkins 174). These stories are often PWP (Plot? What plot?) stories; the focus is less on what the characters are doing and more on what they are feeling. A subgenre of this approach, Hurt/Comfort stories feature one character who is physically or psychologically damaged, rendering them more emotionally vulnerable, and another character cares for them, generally creating a bond between the characters. Camile Bacon-Smith identifies these stories as central to fandom because of the emphasis that they put on characters’ vulnerabilities, emotions, and relationships (see chapter 10). In my story, Buffy, the super powered slayer, is physically injured, and as Spike, a vampire with whom she was in an abusive and destructive relationship, cares for her, and they have an open, honest, and intimate moment.
Buffy limped home. Each breath was painful, and she was pretty sure that she had broken more than a few ribs. The side of her face was cut and raw and she could feel the blood oozing out, splattering on the pavement as she dragged herself home.
She could have died today.
If she wasn’t the slayer, she would have.
She had stumbled across the ubervamp during her patrol. She hadn’t been looking for him, hadn’t been hunting. If anything, she’d been avoiding the Turok-Han since her first run in had left her bloody and bruised and afraid. Sure, she’d gone all Thunderdome with that one in front of the girls, but that had been different. She had needed that fight, had needed to convince them that the ubervamps could be defeated. That she could defeat them. That they could. But she didn’t exactly relish another fight like that.
And there had been no avoiding this one.
He had attacked her, smashing her ribs, gripping her throat, throwing her to the pavement, flinging her across the street. The impact of the concrete, the scrape of the asphalt, the vampire’s strength as he tossed her around, they haunted her. The vamp could have killed her, snapped her neck, drank her blood. But it had been playing with her. Taunting her. Showcasing its strength to demonstrate her weakness.
And she had run.
She had run from a fight. Hobbling off and feeling like she had when she was newly called and afraid. She had lost.
And Buffy didn’t lose. Couldn’t lose.
But she had.
She entered the house as quietly as she could. She didn’t want to wake the girls. Couldn’t let them see her like this. If they saw the way in which she had been beaten, she would never convince them to fight.
“Jesus, Slayer. What the hell happened to you?”
She hadn’t seen the vampire lurking in the hallway.
“Shhh. Had a run-in with an old buddy of yours.”
Spike winced. “Hope you have as good as you got.” He whispered.
She shook her head.
His face softened. “Alright then. Let’s get you upstairs and those wounds tended to. He took a nasty chuck outa you, didn’t he?”
“More than one. But I don’t need your help. I’ll heal.”
He rolled his eyes. “Listen, Slayer. I let you Florence Nightingale me after you dragged me out of the First’s lair. Let a bloke return a favor.”
He offered her his arm and it felt so good to lean on him, to lean on anyone, that she let him lead her up the stairs to the bedroom.
“Good thing you’re a Slayer,” he said when he’d gotten a better look at her. “Normal girl wouldn’t have been able to survive this.”
“A normal girl wouldn’t spend her night fighting uber Neanderthal vamps.”
“No. She’d just be dead.” He paused. “But you’re not. Now let’s take a look at those scrapes. You got some ointments and suchlike around here?”
She pointed him to the first aid kit and was surprised by the gentleness of his touch as he cleaned and dressed her wounds, the salve cooling, soothing.
She had never seen him like this before. So caring and nurturing. So soft and kind and open. She relaxed in his hands. Finally exhaling after the fight. Finally feeling safe.
“You’re good at this.”“Don’t be so surprised, Slayer. I spent a century taking care of Dru. Not a complete shock that I learned a thing or two. I’m not that daft.” He dabbed some anti-bacterial ointment onto her cheek. “What happened out there?”
“I lost. He was stronger. Faster. Better.”
“Didn’t he already beat you up enough? No need to go all punching bag on yourself.”
“I’m not. It’s the truth. I don’t know if I’m strong enough for this fight.”
“You’ve already dust one of these buggers.”
“One. How many hundred more are their going to be?” She could feel the tears rising in her throat, fear, frustration, anger, regret. She just wanted it over.
“You’ll dust them too. Ashes to ashes. And all that.”
“I’m just tired, Spike. Tired of fighting. Tired of bleeding. Tired of hurting.”
“Tired of living?”
“No.” She smiled softly, her eyes glistening. “That was so last year.” She paused. “But I don’t feel like I’m actually living. I’m fighting. I’m surviving. But I’m not living.”
He nodded. “Never ends does it?”
“Like bleedin’ Ground Hog Day. But instead of a fuzzy little rodent to deal with you’ve got a bunch of nasties.”
“Ow.” She held her ribs. “Don’t make me laugh.”
“Let me take a look at those. Take that shirt off.”
She shied away from his touch. “No. I’m okay.” She knew that he was different now. That he had a soul. That he wouldn’t hurt her. But she couldn’t do that. Couldn’t bear her body to the man who had held her down on the bathroom floor, his body bearing down on hers, demanding entry that she did not want to give.
“Buffy…. I’m… I’ll leave you be.” He got to his feet.
“No, Spike.” She silenced him. “Stay? Please.”
“Alright then.” He settled back beside her and she rested her head on his shoulder.
“You’re the only person I can be like this with. For everyone else I’m the Slayer, the General, the Hero, the Leader, the Chosen One. I’m tired of being those things. Sometimes I just want to be me.”
“Thanks. For tonight.”
“Thanks for saving me from the First. The torture scene was getting a bit stale.”
“You would have done the same for me.”
“To hell and back for you, Buffy.”
“Been there. Done that. Can’t say I recommend.”
“Do you think… do you think it ever could have been different… I mean… between us.”
She looked at him sadly. “No,” she said simply. “Not the way I was. Not the way you were. We were destined to be painful and messy.”
“Yeah. I reckon you’re right.”
She took his hand. “But maybe. Not now. But at some point. Maybe things will be.”
Fanfiction has a bad reputation for being nothing more than porn, and while this is untrue, fans do eroticize stories that otherwise might not be. In addition to emotional intensification, PWP can also refer to erotic stories that focus on sexual encounters between characters. Jenkins explains that “Fan writers, freed of the restrains of network censors, often want to explore the erotic dimensions of characters’ lives. Their stories transform the relatively chaste, though often suggestive, world of popular television into erogenous zones of sexual experimentation” (175). I selected to write about The Princess Bride for this story. Not only does the film’s PG rating prevent anything to racy within the context of the film, Fred Savage’s character censors some of the story’s potential eroticism.
“A Kissing Book”
She felt herself call out his name (or at least what she called him) just so that he would look at her. His eyes, like the sea after a storm, dark and deep and calm, engulfed her, pulled her under and in and she was drowning but didn’t need air. Only him.
“Fetch me that pitcher,” she said, fumbling for something to say. Anything to keep him near and looking at her. She knew it was stupid. The pitcher was just over her head and she could easily fetch it herself. But she needed him, wanted him. Any excuse to keep him here with her a second (a lifetime) time more.
She held her breath as he approached, moving slowly and deliberately across the room, his eyes never leaving hers and she could only hope that he had read into her words the meaning that she had discovered in his. And he was there, before her, only inches away, and reaching up around her for the pitcher and she could feel the heat of his body and his gaze.
“As you wish,” he murmured, as he handed her the pitcher. And he looked so earnest and hopeful and beautiful that she couldn’t help but smile.
“Thank you, Westley.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever called me that before.”
“I could continue to call you ‘farm boy,’ if you prefer.”
He reached up and she felt herself leaning into his touch on her cheek. “No. I don’t think I do.” He paused for a moment, licked his lips. “May I kiss you?”
“As you wish.”
And then his lips were on hers, sweet and soft and gentle and chaste at first and then hard and hot and demanding. The pitcher crashed to the floor, and her fingers were in his hair that smelled like sweetness of straw and the shadows of the forest and the green grass of the fields and his were around her waist and running up her sides and on her breasts and she wished that there were not so many layers of clothing between them nor so many customs stopping them from undressing. If they kissed like this for another second longer, she knew that she would surrender to the heat between her legs, which was now engulfing her, to the hardness between his, which was pressed against her.
“Westley,” she breathed as she pulled away.
He looked down, ashamed. “Buttercup, I’m sorry… I…”
She kissed him lightly, a moth-wing whisper across his lips. “Shhh.” She hushed his apology and silenced his shame. She looked down, now her turn to be embarrassed. “I’ve never kissed a man before.”
He tucked his fingers beneath her chin, lifting her face so that she met his gaze, his eyes like the sea. “And I’ve never a woman.”
“You do it well.”
“I’d like to keep practicing, if you’ll have me.”
“I believe I would.”
Bacon-Smith, Camille. Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge, 1992.
Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context. Poetry Wales Press, 2005.