Monday, 4 February 2013

Miscellaneous Mondays: The Boy Who Lived Forever (Because Girls Made It Possible)

“Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.”

So argues Lev Grossman in his TIME Magazine article, “The Boy Who Lived Forever.” The piece represents an effort to lift the curtain and reveal the largely unseen world of fan creation to a mainstream audience. Grossman introduces the concepts of slash, mpreg, and alternate universes to people who have never wept bitter tears because their favourite WIP was abandoned or bemoaned the state of television because their OTP will never become canon. It is an article intended to illuminate this usually invisible realm, not in the guise of an exposé, but as a loving tribute to the symbiotic nature of narrative creation.

While the intended audience is clearly those not in the know, there’s a lot that those of us well versed in fandom can take from this article. First and foremost, it is a positive article about fanworks, with an introduction that implies that the efforts of fan creators are just as valid as the works on which they are based. It traces the history of storytelling and demonstrates both that the worship of originality is a relatively recent development and that great art has always been derivative. Grossman also recognizes that, far from being inherently inferior to the original works, fanfiction can improve upon its predecessors.

What we’re most interested in, however, is a point he makes about halfway through the article. Having established that most fan creators are women, he goes on to discuss what may very well be fanfiction’s most important function: “Diversity: the fan-fiction scene is hyperdiverse. You’ll find every race, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, age and sexual orientation represented there, both as writers and as characters. For people who don’t recognize themselves in the media they watch, it’s a way of taking those media into their own hands and correcting the picture.” It is a way in which we can appropriate the narratives that the mainstream media deems suitable to tell, and show them that our stories are equally worthy.

Many of us are familiar with the argument that, if we aren’t happy with the way things are, we should write our own stories. Unfortunately, for a whole host of economic and social reasons, it’s almost impossible for our stories to compete with the corporation-backed media. Faced with such a situation, it should come as no surprise that we have decided to repurpose these narratives to suit us. Grossman argues that fan creators “talk back to the culture in its own language;” isn’t this the best way to ensure that we’re understood?

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