Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse

Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays (2006)

Overview

Fan fiction and other fan texts have recently gained increasing visibility in both mass media and academic writing. Although numerous insightful essays have appeared in various venues, no comprehensive essay collection has traced the changes and shifts in fan culture and fan fiction since the groundbreaking works of Henry Jenkins, Camille Bacon-Smith, and Constance Penley of the early 1990s. This essay collection, Rethinking Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, looks to complement these crucial early explorations into fan fiction by expanding their scope and focus to include such recent phenomena as the Internet (with fan culture revolving around mailing lists and blogs), the growing acceptability of a contentious subject position, and the community-centered and fraught nature of the creation of fan texts, where the notions of “author” and “reader” tend to conflate. The essays that comprise the volume, all by fans who are also academics, reveal that we inhabit a fluid space that needs to be continuously revised and reconsidered, where new influences, both internal and external, change not only the object of study, but also our theoretical and methodological frameworks. Like the fan text, with complementary and contradictory readings of the source text, the academic text (that is, this book) seeks to describe and understand fandom as it seeks a larger understanding of fan culture. Rather than privileging a particular interpretation as accurate, we have learned from fandom that alternative and competing readings can coexist. We thus use fannish practice as a model for academic practice.

This volume presents twelve essays, averaging 8,000 words each, by fan-scholars all intimately embedded in the milieu of fandom. The introduction provides a listing of fan terms (as a courtesy to the uninformed reader, and to provide a common vocabulary for all the essays that follow); addresses the move of fandom to the Internet, with a particular focus on blogs such as LiveJournal.com; provides a literature review and places the volume in relation to that literature; addresses the notion of subject position as well as goals and methodology; and summarizes the organization of the essays themselves.

The introduction sets up several important points that are echoed throughout the volume: the importance of fandom as a community and the importance of the dual subject position of fan and academic, with neither privileged; the endlessly replicated, collaborative, always provisional nature of the reading and creation of fan texts; and the complicity of technological advances in the forms that fannish expression takes. It is supplemented by “A Brief History of Media Fandom” that traces the last forty years of media fandom looking at some of the more popular media texts and its fandoms as well as general community dynamics and changes throughout the decades.

The essays themselves, written by a variety of people, mostly women who make their living as scholars, are grouped into four parts of three essays each. Part 1, Different Approaches: Fan Fiction in Context, situates fan fiction in its historical, literary, and generic context. Part 2, Characters, Style, Text: Fan Fiction as Literature, focuses on fan fiction as text to be read with the same strategies used to read professionally published fiction. Part 3, Readers and Writers: Fan Fiction and Community, stresses the dense interaction between readers and writers as meaning is created. The role of beta readers in making meaning is addressed, and fan text as performance is dealt with. Finally, Part 4, Medium and Message: Fan Fiction and Beyond, moves away from the narrative view of fan fiction as it describes new forms of fannish engagement in its discussion of fans’ cooption of new media by showing how fans use The Sims and machinima to tell stories, thus emphasizing that new technologies will result in new art forms that change the dynamic of the fan community.

Abstracts

From Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays (c) 2006 Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, www.mcfarlandpub.com.

Part 1. Different Approaches: Fan Fiction in Context

Introduction: Work in Progress

Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson

In addition to providing an overview of the volume, the introduction provides a review of the literature in fandom-related media studies and provides an overview of the fan vocabulary used throughout the book. The focus of the volume is online fandom, so the role of the Internet and technologies that have affected fandom, such as blogs and wikis, are addressed. We stress autoethnography because the contributors to the volume are all fans as well as academics, and the dual nature of this subject position is explained. A comprehensive bibliography is included after the introduction. (pp 5–32)

A Brief History of Media Fandom

Francesca Coppa

Although histories of fandom exist, none has been written recently enough to take into account the move of fandom online, and many histories are specific to a television show, such as Star Trek. This overview, a chronological history informed by a variety of fan sources, aims to fill this gap. New fannish activities that redeploy new media are occuring; the genre of slash has come out of the closet; and formerly forbidden genres, such as real person slash, are now condoned. (pp 41–59)

Chapter 1. Archontic Literature: A Definition, a History, and Several Theories of Fan Fiction

Abigail Derecho

This essay offers an analysis of fan fiction not as a cultural phenomenon (as fan fiction has been studied by most fan scholars to date), but as an artistic practice. What is fan fiction, where does it come from, and what does it mean, in a philosophical sense? These are questions that need to be addressed if we are to think critically and seriously about fan fiction as an art form. The first part of the essay defines fan fiction as a subgenre of a larger type of writing that is usually called “derivative” or “appropriative” literature, but which I choose to call archontic, a term borrowed from Jacques Derrida’s definition of archives as ever expanding and never completely closed. The second part of the essay traces the history of archontic literature from the seventeenth century to the present day, with an emphasis on how archontic writing has been often used by minority groups and women as a technique for making social and cultural criticisms. The third part of the essay uses concepts from twentieth-century poststructuralists Gilles Deleuze and Edouard Glissant to argue that fan fiction and archontic literature are ethical projects that oppose outdated notions of hierarchy and property. (pp 61–78)

Chapter 2. One True Pairing: The Romance of Pornography and the Pornography of Romance

Catherine Driscoll

In this essay, I reconsider the relationship between romance and pornography in fan fiction, proposing that fan fiction allows us to think about them as genres that are not only compatible but intimately connected. Although romance and porn have been popularly associated with women and men, respectively, fan fiction intersects them and reflects on both. Fan fiction might be part of a recent commercial diversification of pornography into the sexual practices of women, but it is also a new mode of popular romance fiction. Considering what fan fiction can tell us about the intimacy of romance and pornography, I place fan fiction in a history of literacy, popular culture, and the private self, concluding that pornography is structured in relation to the conventions of romance, and romance fiction is sustained by porn’s ecstatic relationship to exposure. Fan fiction, belonging to the categories of both porn and romance and yet to neither, allows us to rethink their form, content, and significance. (pp 79–96)

Chapter 3. Intimatopia: Genre Intersections Between Slash and the Mainstream

Elizabeth Woledge

I challenge the assumption that slash fan fiction is unique, and I situate slash fiction within a wider literary context. Unlike others, who have linked slash fiction with the popular romance, I look elsewhere for mainstream literary equivalents. To avoid categorizing all types of slash fiction within the same rubric, I use a genre-based approach to isolate a subset of slash fiction that is centrally concerned with intimacy. I then trace the parallels between amateur and mainstream fictions, elucidating a hitherto uninvestigated genre of literature, which I term intimatopic. By analyzing intimatopic texts from both slash and mainstream communities, I investigate the features that link them. After considering how each structure is used to highlight intimacy, I trace these links across the representation of homosocial bonds, sexual interaction, equality, and hierarchies, as well as the pervasive structure of hurt/comfort. After exposing the core of intimacy that defines intimatopia, I discuss the subversive potential of slash and its mainstream equivalents, concluding that it is not erotics but intimacy that has the potential to subvert current assumptions about interpersonal relationships. Throughout, I consider intimatopic slash fiction to be part of a wider body of literature that is similarly concerned with representation of interpersonal intimacy and the ways it can be facilitated. (pp 97–114)

Part 2. Characters, Style, Text: Fan Fiction as Literature

Chapter 4. The Toy Soldiers from Leeds: The Slash Palimpsest

Mafalda Stasi

I examine slash fan fiction texts from a novel perspective by moving beyond the view of a static, uniform, and self-contained corpus. To this end, I propose a new metaphor for slash: that of a rich intertextual palimpsest. By viewing the vast slash corpus as a diverse and dynamic one, and considering each individual text in its own terms, a richer, more in-depth connection among genre and style is permitted. I examine how intertextual links between the slash text and its canon deeply influence the shape the text takes, allowing writers to use compression and allusion techniques reminiscent of medieval allegory; and I analyze how the collective, shared authorship of slash blurs the modernly established boundaries of individual author and discrete text, harkening back to classical mythological discourse. I then look at how intertextuality is even more pervasive in slash: most texts refer not only to their canonical source, but also to a variety of other texts. I conclude with an indication for possible further analysis into the material conditions of production of slash texts, and how these affect the text itself. As even the most cursory look to the history of literature shows, intertextuality is prevalent and pervasive, and slash is no exception: far from being a freakish oddity, slash is no different from any other literary text. (pp 115–33)

Chapter 5. Construction of Fan Fiction Character Through Narrative

Deborah Kaplan

I analyze the narrative techniques used to develop character in a small cross section of novel-length fan fiction stories. I examine the development of character at the level of both discourse and story, and follow the creation of character as original but sourced in canon and fanon characterization. Narrative conventions work at the discourse level to develop character. These characterizations play into and grow out of the source text. Because both the producers and consumers of the fan works are aware of the source materials as well as of sources that are extratextual to the fan productions, a rich interpretive space is created in which fan fictions participate actively through narrative tools with their source materials. Characters that exist outside the fan fiction texts therefore become available for complex play and recreation. (pp 134–52)

Chapter 6. Keeping Promises to Queer Children: Making Space (for Mary Sue) at Hogwarts

Ika Willis

I demonstrate that recent responses to the “resistance-incorporation” paradigm in scholarship on fan fiction have attempted to locate queerness and other forms of resistance to dominant formulas for reading, either entirely within canon (as “latent” meanings) or entirely within the reader (as “resistant” readings). I displace the terms of this debate to argue that fan fiction is produced out of the interaction between canon as made legible by dominant cultural knowledges and formulas for reading, and canon as reoriented by the demands and desires brought to it by the subjectivity of the fan/reader and her knowledge of the world. I map this interaction according to the model of textuality and ideology put forward in the later writings of Roland Barthes (in particular, the idea of the doxa), together with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s model of queer reading. I argue that this model of fan reading/writing can enable us to account in detail for the way in which the production of fan stories is structured by the interplay between subjective engagement with canon and ideological habits of reading. I demonstrate this through close readings of two of my own Harry Potter stories and their relation to canon, showing that fan fiction orients the canonical text around the demands made by a reader’s subjective engagement with canon. I conclude the chapter by considering fan stories as shared readings, potentially offering other fans new ways to engage with a reoriented canon, and argue that fan fiction can be understood as Barthesian in the way that it valorizes pleasure. (pp 153–70)

Part 3. Readers and Writers: Fan Fiction and Community

Chapter 7. The Audience as Editor: The Role of Beta Readers in Online Fan Fiction Communities

Angelina I. Karpovich

I examine the role that beta reading plays in fan fiction communities by tracing the evolution of this practice in the context of technological and demographic changes throughout the recent history of fan fiction communities. I then examine a number of online resources specifically dedicated to beta reading in order to test the validity of the structuralist approach to online fandom. A variety of modes of address present in the Web sites under consideration points to differing assumptions about the potential readers’ status within the fan fiction community; thus, an analysis of basic guides to beta reading reveals which social norms the community emphasizes most. The evolution of beta reading and the variety of online resources dedicated to its practice are discussed as examples of the general technological sophistication of the online fan community and are presented as an example of medium-enabled convergence of the technological knowledges and social practices of a variety of subcultures. The role of beta readers in fan fiction communities is examined in relation to the superficially similar roles performed by commercial literary editors and test audiences for prerelease films. This comparison reveals that the relationship between beta readers and fan texts is unique. Beta reading is also discussed in the light of the ever-increasing volume of metafandom discourses, which serve to augment both the social networks and textual productivity within fan communities while simultaneously challenging the previous Descartian definitions of fan communities and highlighting the intrinsically problematic nature of defining fan communities. (pp 171–88)

Chapter 8. Cunning Linguists: The Bisexual Erotics of Words/Silence/Flesh

Eden Lackner, Barbara Lynn Lucas, and Robin Anne Reid

We focus on a dual-authored single work of real people slash fiction in Lord of the Rings fandom and readers’ response to it in the two writers’ blogs at LiveJournal.com in order to complicate the extent to which the concept of “women” writing slash in earlier decades of fandom risks being ahistorically universalized. Drawing on recent work by Judith Halberstam and Alexander Doty, we ask how differences among women in fandom (of age, regional and national cultures, class, ethnicity, sexual identity) can be read within the complex matrix of queer theory. We analyze the queer erotic relationships between the two writers of the story, their readers, and the three authors of the essay that question the binary of straight/gay in fan scholarship, problematizing the stereotype that slash is written by straight women about gay men. We acknowledge the contemporary culture in which the straight/gay construct has been challenged by bisexual, transsexual, and transgender activists. By analyzing collaboration, queerness, and boundaries, we conclude that the range of sexualities it is possible to construct through slash is greater than has been previously realized. On one end of the spectrum is the notion that women writing erotic fiction in a patriarchal society should be celebrated as subversive. On the other is the notion that women writing homoerotic fanfic should be denigrated as misogynistic for the absence of women characters. We complicate this binary position by hypothesizing the existence of a nuanced spectrum that has yet to be explored or analyzed. (pp 189–206)

Chapter 9. My Life Is a WIP on My LJ: Slashing the Slasher and the Reality of Celebrity and Internet Performances

Kristina Busse

I connect the performance of queerness with a general reading of real people slash (RPS), focusing on LiveJournal.com (LJ)’s often highly sexualized interactions and the way identity is performed in this medium. This performance brings together the fannish, political, and personal in ways previously separated. By looking at the way fans perform their online identities and enact certain roles with and for one another, I suggest that much of fannish interaction contains its own version of RPS. I use discussions centered around fannish displays of affection, mock queerness, and concerns about the political implications of such behavior. LJ users relate to each other through adopted personas and avatars, tending to view one another as extrapolations of these highly performative roles. In so doing, our fannish daily interaction on LJ and off may not be that dissimilar from the RPS that LJ users read and write. Discourses about fans—where real-life identity is partially hidden and where online identities are partially performed—allow fans to engage with one another’s personas, which are understood to not fully coincide with the actual person. In both RPS and LJ discourses, there is a certain awareness of its simultaneous reality and performativity. Rather than dismissing LJ and other fannish roles as false, we must acknowledge the similarities of online social networks to face-to-face ones. These roles may tell us more about our actual identities than any attempt to separate real from false, real from virtual, or real from fictional ever could. (pp 207–24)

Part 4. Medium and Message: Fan Fiction and Beyond

Chapter 10. Writing Bodies in Space: Media Fan Fiction as Theatrical Performance

Francesca Coppa

I argue that that fan fiction develops in response to dramatic, not literary, modes of storytelling and therefore can be seen to fulfill performative rather than literary criteria. By recognizing drama instead of prose as the antecedent medium for fan fiction, and by examining fan fiction through the lens of performance studies, three highly debated things about fan fiction become explicable: (1) fan fiction’s focus on bodies; (2) fan fiction’s repetition; and (3) fan fiction’s production within the context of media fandom. Fan fiction, whether written in teleplay form or not, directs bodies in space: readers come to fan fiction with extratextual knowledge, mostly of characters’ bodies and voices, and the writer uses this to direct her work. In theatre, there’s a value to revisiting the same text in order to explore different aspects and play out different scenarios; in television, we don’t mind tuning in week after week to see the same characters in entirely different stories. Similarly, fan fiction retells stories, but also changes them. If traditional theatre takes a script and makes it three-dimensional in a potentially infinite number of productions, modern fandom takes something three-dimensional and then produces an infinite number of scripts. This activity is not authoring texts, but making productions—relying on the audience’s shared extratextual knowledge of sets and wardrobes, of the actors’ bodies, smiles, and movements to direct a living theatre in the mind. (pp 225–44)

Chapter 11. “This Dratted Thing”: Fannish Storytelling Through New Media

Louisa Ellen Stein

I link together three avenues of thought relating to online fan texts: (1) new media theory’s focus on technology, specifically understandings of interface—that is, the point of interaction between a user and a computer at the level of the software with which we engage with new media; (2) genre theory’s conception of genre discourse as shared, shifting, cultural category; and (3) fan studies’ focus on fans as users and authors of media texts, who engage with and build on already existing media texts in various ways. I propose that, through the merging of these three avenues of inquiry, we can find a new, more tangible, way to understand fan engagement with new media and popular media texts. From the interplay among fan culture, genre discourse, and new media interfaces, fan-created fiction and art are born. The histories and traditions of fan fiction intersect with broader cultural (generic) discourses as fandom moves online. In turn, as fans use the tools of new media to write and share fannish narratives, new forms of fan creative expression come into being. I look at how this trifold process is exemplified in two fannish uses of interface to create new modes of storytelling: diary-based fan fictions that use interactive blogging sites such as LiveJournal.com to create daily diaries kept by fictional characters; and fictional narratives created by fans out of images from The Sims, a computer game where players create characters and control various aspects of their lives. (pp 245–60)

Chapter 12. From Shooting Monsters to Shooting Movies: Machinima and the Transformative Play of Video Game Fan Culture

Robert Jones

Machinima represents one of the most important outgrowths of video game fan culture. Through the manipulation of video game engines (the architectural code of a video game), players take control of the characters and use them to create short animated films within the game’s 3D virtual environment. These films are then distributed and shared over the Internet. Creators of machinima films engage in transformative play, an act of altering the rules and structures of designated play spaces to suit their individual needs. The video game possesses unique qualities that separate it from traditional forms of media. The video game’s interactive nature creates a different relationship between consumers and producers, which requires the reconsideration of previous theories of fan cultures that were based on traditionally passive relationships to media (such as film and TV). Because gamers are capable of fundamentally manipulating the medium of the video game in ways that other fans of traditional media cannot, notions of fan “resistance” must be reexamined within this new context. Moreover, transformative play (a term borrowed from game design theory) offers new ways of understanding consumer-producer relationships. (pp 261–80)

Citation information

Hellekson, Karen, and Kristina Busse, ed. 2006. Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Note

The call for papers, which used the title Theorizing Fan Fiction and Fan Communities, closed on May 15, 2005. The completed book was sent to the publisher on October 24, 2005. Corrected pages were mailed on June 9, 2006. The book was printed and bound by June 27, 2006. The official publication date is October 2006.