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Look what they’ve done to our characters, ma

Neha Kasbekar says all that Internet history was for research, she swears

Neha Kasbekar says all that Internet history was for research, she swears

If I were to offer you the sanitized, Sparknotes explanation of the fanfiction phenomenon, it’d simply be that fanfiction, variously fanfic or fic, refers to fan-authored stories that imagine different narrative possibilities for characters from a movie, novel, TV show or indeed any conceivable source material. Regrettably, fanfiction, to most outside the fold, is synonymous with perversion of gargantuan proportions.

While fanfic admittedly has far too much kink and bizarrely popular genres like ‘Hurt/Comfort’ for me to ever convince you otherwise, it’s not too difficult to see the motives informing fanfiction as harmless, even amusing.

At its root, the weirdness felt towards fanfic is standard adaptation anxiety, a byproduct of the attachment we feel towards fictional figures and the resulting mud-slinging when they’re adapted inconsistently with the supposed spirit of the source.

Take slash fiction, fandom parlance for fanfic involving same-sex male pairings (or femmeslash, the female alternative) irrespective of the orientation of characters in the original source material. Think of Glee power couple Kurt and Blaine, but with the hetero uber-mensch Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother romantically paired with Ted Mosby. Slash seems like a radical move: to those who dislike adaptations that deviate from canon narrative, the idea of altering a character’s sexuality would border on verboten. The anger is only intensified when the source has religious dimensions, as with fanfic sexualising God and Satan for instance.

Yet good slash fic is borne of benign impulses: the desire to fill in the gaps and present plausible interpretations of character dynamics (Barney’s inability to settle for any one woman implying latent homosexuality; viewing Ted as his ultimate bro signifying romantic interest). Since most original works don’t explicitly identify characters’ sexualities, and the audience instead operates on the cultural assumption of straightness, it’s difficult to see why slash fic would equal a poor adaptation per se.

Fanfiction is at its most polarizing though with RPF or real-person fiction, a genre so contentious that even fanfiction.net, whose raison d’etre is hosting the most extensive fanfic repository, refuses to admit it as a publishable category. Por qué? Fashioning fictional accounts of real-life figures, many perceive RPF fanfic as verging on the libelous – with narratives overwhelmingly of the pornographic variety. RPF eludes any redemptive “I’m-simply-exploring-narrative-possibilities” alibi and just seems depraved and intrusive.

If however you believe that the remove of fiction remains in place, making RPF no less permissible than porn, RPF is both wish-fulfilling and charmingly democratic, sparing no public figure from erotic trysts. Bask in the romantic possibility of couples attracting wide speculation like Twilight’s Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart or compelling experimental variations like UK political heads David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The line you draw with fanfiction is inevitably a litmus test of personal values. That said, if the prospect of Tony Abbott & Julia Gillard bondage, as in at least one RPF fic, doesn’t strike you as both plausible and the best possible resolution for Labor/Lib tensions, you’d definitely be the only weirdo here.

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